FAMILY IS full of ups and downs, but it’s also where we leave from and go back to. At its best, it’s where we belong. At its worst, it’s where we wish to go or return to — that place of belonging.
Karen McCulloch has a heart for family. But when she and her husband, Wheeler, returned to Fayetteville to be close to their families, following college, she also returned to be a part of other families.
A job in Shelbyville was the nearest one she could get in a position serving young families. Karen, who is bilingual, took the kid care coordinator position at the Bedford County Health Department. She assisted low-poverty families by providing resources and education to many of whom were Hispanic. But the drive to Shelbyville from her Lincoln County home added hours to her workday.
When their son was born, Karen knew the drive to Shelbyville burned up precious time she would rather spend with her family, but a new opportunity opened at the perfect time. Junior’s House, a nonprofit organization providing free services and advocacy to child abuse and neglect victims in Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall, and Moore Counties, needed a Court Appointed Child Advocate (CASA) volunteer supervisor. Four days a week in the Fayetteville office and one day a week in Lewisburg would shorten Karen’s drive considerably, adding more family time and enabling her to help other area families.
like it helps so many kids. Even though I don’t deal with families all the time, I help the volunteers provide resources for them.”
Karen attends court in Marshall and Lincoln Counties to offer an immediate connection to Junior’s House for abuse and neglect cases. She coordinates new cases, assists and coordinates the volunteers, and manages the Junior’s House volunteer program in these counties.
Working with abused children can be emotionally challenging, but helping them and their families is her priority.
“It’s hard to hear that a kid is going through something, so I separate my emotions because I know that my emotions aren’t the most important thing,” Karen said. “They’re trying to figure out what their emotions are. I have to think clearly to help that family get through what they’re about to go through. We just want to know their thoughts, so we have to push our emotions back and be there for the family first.”
Helping is what Karen loves to do.
“When I got my first job at the health department, I realized this is what I was meant to do,” she said. “Because I’m bilingual, I felt I had to help someone who’s not understanding, even in the grocery store. I’ve always known I’d be someone who helps. I grew up knowing I wanted to be someone they knew would have information to help them through a tough time.”
Her ultimate goal was to become a helper to her community in Lincoln County.
“I’ve always loved helping families and children. I love being around children. That’s what I always wanted to do, and I wanted to be able to give back to my community,” Karen said.
It’s a family circle made up of community and birth families.
She said, “I wanted to be closer to my son when I’m working; I don’t want to be so far away from him. My family is important to me, and working at Junior’s House is important; you’re helping a family go through tough times. I wanted to put all that I’ve learned back into the community that I grew up in and be a role model to my son.”
Karen is a connector.
“I’m building bridges in the community I live in with the volunteers and the people they serve. I’m helping our volunteers build that family back up and giving them everything they need to be a good family and help them raise their children correctly, and I love that,” Karen said.
She knows that family at its best means being there for each other, a safe place to share things. Every family is different and far from perfect, but we all need to feel we have a place to belong. Karen wants to support and build up those places in the lives of others.
Family is where we leave and go back to, and Karen has done both. At Junior’s House or in the grocery store, this helper is indeed at home. GN