Ali Gaines, a teacher at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) one.Biddick School joins the list of dedicated professionals and volunteers in San Joaquin County who have received special recognition in the fight against child abuse.
Gaines students at one.Biddick stay at the Mary Graham Children’s Shelter, where children are brought if they have been removed from dangerous situations at home or a failed foster-care placement.
Time at the shelter is short, but it is long enough for a compassionate teacher like Gaines to leave a lasting impression. It is why he was one of three individuals and one agency program recognized at the 16th Annual San Joaquin County Child Abuse Prevention Symposium on April 20 at the University of the Pacific DeRosa Center. The theme of the event was: Choosing to be a Survivor.
“Not only to be a survivor but to be awesome at life,” said Gaines about what he hopes for his students. He said every last one of his students could make it to college if that is what they want to do. “Education is the key to success,” said Gaines, who has taught at the school for about 10 of his more than 20 years at the SJCOE. “My goal is for them to see that opportunity.”
Hosted by the Children’s Services Coordinating Commission (CSCC) and the SJCOE, the annual event drew more than 300 dedicated professionals and volunteers working with children and families in San Joaquin County at high risk of abuse and neglect. Participants came together to network with each other and listen to a slate of speakers. The presentations were broken up by lunch and an awards ceremony honoring individuals in four categories of Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention Awards.
Gaines received the award for Service Employee of the Year.
California Highway Patrol Officer James Smith received the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Mary Alt received the Volunteer of the Year Award.
The Lodi S.A.F.E. (Students and Family Empowered) Project received the Agency Program of the Year Award. It is a collaborative project with the Lodi Unified School District and the Child Abuse Prevention Council.
The symposium began with remarks from San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas, and CSCC Chairperson Kathy Morrissey served as the emcee.
The presenters were:
- Carol Redding, a Ph.D. candidate providing information about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, focusing on alcoholism, depression, and criminality
- Suzanne Schultz, coordinator of the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office Family Crimes Division and director of the San Joaquin Family Justice Center project
- Katie Romaneck, survivor of a 1994 kidnapping and assault
- Larry Hansen, retired Lodi police chief
Hansen and Romaneck gave a joint presentation about Romanek’s kidnapping as a 12-year-old girl in 1994 and the search that followed. “I was kidnapped by a stranger. I was tortured, but I survived,” Romaneck said.
The encounter impacted her life in the years that followed, even when she didn’t realize it. When she needed help, she reached out and got it, she told the crowd of professionals that included many who provide that kind of help and other assistance.
“If it weren’t for people like you, this community has zero hope,” she said. “God bless every single one of you out there.”