Norm Cookson has been a House Parent at A Kid’s Place for almost 10 years, and he embodies the very essence of what we strive to accomplish for our children at A Kid’s Place. Having spent time in foster care as a child, Norm understands firsthand how important it is to have a stable, positive influence to help children get through one of the most difficult and painful times in their lives and show them how life can be better. Even now, over 35 years later, Norm remembers the emptiness and longing he felt as a foster child, and recognizes the confusion, anger and sometimes overwhelming anxiety in the faces of the children he now works with. In writing about his experience, he explains “no matter how bad your family is, there is a part of you as a child that yearns for that back, a feeling of longing for something we can’t quite comprehend”.
For children that have been living with chaos and instability, Norm, along with his wife Heidi, provides a safe, stable and loving environment that is often the first positive family setting these children have been exposed to in their young lives. They provide a sense of structure and normalcy, and strive to ensure that the children have access to the same experiences as their peers, creating memories and social inclusion by exposing them to things like birthday parties, museums, concerts, movies, and amusement parks that many of the children have never experienced.
Norm goes to great trouble to make sure the children’s home is meticulously clean, yet personalized to make it warm and welcoming. Each day he makes sure to prepare meals that are the children’s favorites, and just like any parent makes himself available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One of the things Norm shares with the children is his love of music. Each weekend he plans dance parties, setting up all of his equipment and playing DJ. As music thunders across the campus, the children all run for the porch and begin singing and dancing. No matter what song they request, he can always find it. This act brings so much fun and joy to the children, and the staff loves it too! His fun nature also touches children and staff when he throws his annual Halloween party. The children look forward to this each year, as everyone dresses up in Halloween costumes and dances the night away.
Mr. Norm encourages children to participate in extracurricular activities to boost their self-esteem. When some of our girls were invited to attend a father/daughter dance, Mr. Norm volunteered to be the stand in father for the evening. He made sure each little girl had a corsage to wear, and when they were all dressed up, he presented each one with their flowers and made sure pictures were taken so they could remember the special evening. The look on their faces said it all; for a short time, they could just be like all the other little girls, with a father to escort and dance with them. These are the types of events that foster children often miss out on and that Mr. Norm does his best to make happen.
Mr. Norm became certified in water safety so he is able to take the children swimming off campus. He is viewed as the senior house parent and the “go to” person whenever questions
arise after hours among other direct care staff, and whenever we are short-staffed, he consistently volunteers for anything that needs to be done. And, perhaps most importantly, he treats his wife with the utmost respect, providing young boys and girls with the type of healthy relationship role model they likely have never been exposed to, and that is critical to breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.