There is a home for every child.”
That simple statement summarizes the work Ma Shonn Sullivan ’94 does every day for Lorain County Children Services, located in Elyria, Ohio, near Cleveland.
She works with foster and adoptive families on behalf of children as a case worker, and typically has 12 to 15 children in her portfolio at one time in various stages of the foster and adoptive process.
“There are certainly times of disappointment,” said Sullivan, “but almost always there is joy in the outcome.”
Sullivan takes her responsibilities very seriously, and that includes some restless nights wondering what the right decision for a particular child might be. She knows her work is life-changing for one of God’s precious children.
“The adoption process is a journey, and it is especially gratifying to see a child in a traumatic situation ending up in a good place, knowing that what we did was best,” she said.
Sullivan and her colleagues want a permanent home for the children entrusted to them. “Concurrent planning” goes on, in which family reunification is the first goal, although adoption or permanent placement with a foster family is also explored.
“I think our team goes to every length and does more than the extra mile, because we want to do the right thing the first time every time for each child. And each child is a unique individual with unique needs,” Sullivan said.
She came to her current position after degrees at Calvin (psychology) and at Case Western University (social work), plus a time as a resident director at Case through the Coalition for Christian Outreach.
“I came to Calvin because my dad was a big U.S. News & World Report reader,” she said. “Calvin’s national rankings drew us to take a look, and it came down to Calvin’s combination of educational offerings and spiritual base.”
She worked at Entrada, the college’s summer college experience for high school students of color, serving as an assistant to Rhae-Ann Richardson Booker ’91, a mentor to her who “always had a hand on my back and said, ‘You’re going to do this.’”
Sullivan also credits Calvin professors Michelle Loyd-Paige, John Brink, Uko Zylstra and Randall Jelks as Christian academics who pushed her to think hard about her role in God’s world, and Jeff Bouman in the Service-Learning Office, who encouraged her to be engaged in student leadership.
Gospel Choir was also a joy, allowing for more student connections and an outlet for joyful expression after a challenging first semester at the college.
Sullivan is active in her local church, the Pentecostal Church of Christ in Cleveland, as a teacher, youth ministry leader, singles ministry leader and personal assistant to the pastor’s wife—who is also a pastor.
“My work can be overwhelming at times,” she said, “as you see your in-box full of family inquiries, and you’re tasked with making a life-changing match. And there are the ‘11:59ers,’ family members that come at the very last minute to challenge an adoption after so much work has been done and emotion invested.
“But I understand that I’ve been called to this work and deeply want the right thing to happen for every child. That’s God’s plan, and I am glad to be a part of it.”