By Rick Wolcott*
Tiffin Faith United Methodist Church (Firelands District) has been a faith partner of Flat Rock Homes, Care Center, and Community Services since the agency’s beginning in 1866. Their most-recent collaboration, a dedicated break room on campus for Flat Rock’s direct support professionals, cares for the caregivers and honors the late Rev. Dr. Valerie Stultz, a former board member of the agency and a past dean of the East Ohio Conference Cabinet.
“Valerie was a tireless champion of our people and she was a strong believer in self-care. So, we wanted to find a way to minister to the ministers and to provide that calm space where they can experience the Lord’s peace for a few minutes every day,” said Flat Rock President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Kilgo. “Our folks work incredibly-long hours and they serve people with very high behavioral needs and very severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. We needed a place where they could go have a break and get some rest for mind, body, and spirit before going back to work to serve the people that we serve here at Flat Rock.”
Prior to the creation of the new dedicated room in the building, staff members would sit in their cars to take their breaks, something that was very inconvenient in the heat of the summer and the cold and snow of winter.
“I have an HR background so I know how important it is to keep your employees happy and something like this just struck my heart that this is a wonderful thing to do for a group of people who work so hard with a challenged group of people,” said Sharon Smith, chair of the Tiffin Faith UMC church board.
Tiffin Faith Lay Leader Jeannine Curns, who served for a short time with Stultz on the Flat Rock board, shared that when the Rev. Marilyn Coney and the church’s administrative board heard of the need, they decided to issue a challenge to the congregation: if it could raise $2,500, the church would match it with a $2,500 donation – giving Flat Rock the $5,000 needed to turn an old file room into a much-needed staff break room.
“We raised the money within two weeks,” Curns said.
The donated funds from the church created a room that has a window to let in the light, a table with four chairs, a couch, beanbag chairs, cellphone lockers, a refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee maker, and other amenities to give it the feel of home. Staff members saw their new break room for the first time during the dedication ceremony on September 12, which was timed to correspond with the national Direct Support Professional Recognition Week.
“Shock and surprise.”
That was how Coann Westerhold, a direct support professional at Flat Rock for 10 years, responded when asked of her initial reaction to seeing the room.
“It means a lot,” she continued. “It’s been very needed for a long time. I’m excited. It’s great.
This is above and beyond what I thought we would get as a break room.”
“Valerie was a passionate supporter of the folks who do the day-to-day job, the care workers, and she lobbied for this for years. It just means the world, I think, to these folks who are now able to have a room away from things. This is a highly, highly stressful profession and having a room like this I feel will be a real value for each one of them,” said Harry Askin, a longtime former Flat Rock board member who will rejoin the board in November.
When asked at the dedication what it means to him to see the staff room created and named in Valerie’s honor, her husband Buck Stultz said, “It means a lot. It was very comforting to me to have Valerie so inspired by this ministry.”
“I really feel like all the time that she is still influencing myself and the work of the church across the whole globe,” said the Rev. Cara Stultz Costello, co-pastor of North Canton Faith UMC and one of the Stultz’s daughters. “She so deeply loved all people and we are assured in scripture that love never dies so this is a testament to that scripture word that love never dies, that she continues to live by giving a place of rest to the staff here so that they can continue to give life to the people that live here.”
“This honors our past and the legacy of Valerie, but it also honors the time and dedication of the employees here in a way that goes farther than a pat on the back,” said the Rev. Ted Beuhl, chair of the EOC Health and Welfare Committee. “It also honors and celebrates the connection that this agency has with the churches of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.”
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*Rick Wolcott is the director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.