November 24, 2023
So many stories of resilience and accomplishment – so many journeys – begin at Relief Nursery, not just for our children and families, but for our volunteers and teachers, too.
Meet Shannon Richard. In 1989, she was studying Psychology at the University of Oregon and wanted to work with children. Through her studies she learned of an internship opportunity at Relief Nursery.
“This was during the early days when Relief Nursery was operating out of four different churches,” Shannon explains. “I was assigned to work with Margaret Lord who taught the pre-school class at Central Presbyterian Church. She was an excellent role model for me. The children adored her. She taught me so much about what the children needed, and how we could meaningfully help the parents.”
“I had no idea what to expect at Relief Nursery but before I graduated I had an epiphany – I could really have an impact on children and their families,” says Shannon. “I still remember that moment when I knew this was the path I was meant to take. There was no turning back.”
After graduating in 1991 Shannon continued to volunteer in a Relief Nursery classroom and eventually became a substitute teacher, “They couldn’t get rid of me!”
In 1992, Relief Nursery received a grant to open a new classroom for 2- and 3-year-olds and Shannon was asked to lead it. “We were housed at Central Lutheran Church. The funny thing is I eventually joined that church and was married there. In fact, the groomsmen got ready for the wedding in that very classroom!”
One child in her new classroom had a huge impact on Shannon’s experience. “This little boy had a rare genetic disorder. His parents had been through so much. They were already barely making ends meet and the medical issues were overwhelming. To care for their son, one parent had to stay home with him, adding to the stress. They nearly divorced,” she recalls.
“That little boy was an amazing bright light,” Shannon says. “He had so much going against him and his prognosis wasn’t good. Yet he brought such joy to the classroom and loved being there. That family’s story really affected me. They fully embraced what we offered – the respite for the parents and the classroom for their son. I saw firsthand the difference we were making in their lives.
During this time, Relief Nursery moved into its building at 25th and Chambers. Shannon and her colleagues helped design the classrooms. She also had her first baby, Madeline, who gave her a whole new level of understanding and empathy that she could share with parents. Not surprisingly, Madeline also volunteered at Relief Nursery while in college. Today Madeline works in the Portland area with children ages birth-5 who need special education services.
Over the next few years, several disturbing events occurred that crystalized Shannon’s commitment to keeping children and families safe, but in a different capacity. “After a while, the stories and situations were just too intense. Families experiencing domestic violence. One child was removed from her mom’s care due to abuse. A little girl who was waiting for services died due to injuries from being beaten,” says Shannon. In response to the tragedy, Relief Nursery created its Outreach/Crisis Intervention Program. “And then a little girl who had been served by us, died in an apartment fire caused by a space heater. It was horrific.”Shannon realized she wanted to do more; to have broader influence. So she entered Law School at the University of Oregon.
“After a brief stint in the Governor’s office during law school, I was hired as an Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice, serving the Oregon Child Welfare Program. There we worked on cases involving children in foster care and termination of parental rights. It was really hard, especially since I knew programs like Relief Nursery could’ve prevented some of these situations. But our child welfare professionals made sure all services had been offered before we had to take that final step,” she says.
These are the families that Relief Nursery seeks to serve by interrupting the trajectory of foster care placement and instances of child abuse and neglect.
Today, Shannon is the Assistant Attorney in Charge of the Civil Recovery Section and represents the Oregon Division of Child Support.
“In my job, I see families that could have really benefitted from Relief Nursery services. Sadly, some of those families include an incarcerated parent. Relief Nursery provides the kind of support that could help a person avoid a life path that leads to incarceration,” Shannon says. “Relief Nursery works. It’s local and has an impact on families and our community at large. Supporting families in our community has a ripple effect whether you see it or not. Relief Nursery starts kids off on the right foot by supporting children and families.”
We are grateful to Shannon for sharing her unique perspective on Relief Nursery’s work and her advocacy for children. There are many families waiting to be served; families that need Relief Nursery today. Your support will help us start these children and families on their journey of success and resilience.
P.S. Thank you for investing in Relief Nursery children and families at a time in their lives when your support will make the greatest difference.