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Steenwyk cares about children

By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
This week's profile is about a lady who grew up in the north, came south to teach and has been in education ever since.
Karen Steenwyk was born at home in Michigan. She went to school in a one- room schoolhouse when she was a child. Her parents had only an eight- grade education, but Steenwyk always wanted to be a teacher. When she was in school there came a time that she had to make some choices about her future.
My dad called the school to see what my teacher thought about it. She suggested that I take the college prep courses. I realize now that it was a big step for my father to make since he had no more schooling than he did."
She took her teacher's advice and continued with her schooling while working at a bakery.
The members of her family were a part of the Dutch Reform Church of America which is a protestant faith with a lot of emphasis on showing their faith by working with others. She graduated from high school and went to the church-supported Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
She graduated from college with a degree in elementary education and started teaching in a Christian school about an hour away from home. She married Vern Steenwyk, who was also a teacher who lived just down the street, and they moved to Zeeland, Mich. They were soon joined by their sons, Chad and Brad.
The family was very involved with their church and church activities. After teaching for a while she and her husband looked into the possibility of getting involved with mission work. In 1980 they heard about a school in south Alabama that their church was supporting.
About 10 years ago when the decision was made to close Southern Normal, Vern went to work as the director of the Evergreen Library and she began substitute teaching in Brewton Middle School.
She then started to work at the Escambia County Extension Service working with Vicky Fussell in the parenting teaching program, going into homes to teach parenting and other things to help with children.
Her current work is with the Kids and Kin Program which focuses on relatives who care for family members' children. It was developed by the Family Guidance Center of Alabama and is funded by the Alabama Department of Human Resources to meet the needs and concerns of relative care providers in Alabama.
Relative child care is a very common type of child care arrangement. In Alabama, studies show that a third of all families who are using some type of child care choose relative care. Because it is an informal type of child care there was no existing network for sharing concerns, educational experiences and identifying resources.
Kids and Kin Program has several goals such as researching the needs and concerns of relative care providers; providing support for care providers, offering educational workshops and providing referrals to services or resources available to the relative care provider.
Steenwyk says that there is no need for relatives who are providing child care to be alone. They can be connected to others who face the same problems and concerns. In the program, those who sign up receive free monthly newsletters and free educational materials such as tips for helping children with their homework and age appropriate activities for children.
Kids and Kin and Steenwyk are now signing care providers up for a free program which will offer a "earn while you learn" feature.
Free sessions are offered in CPR, First Aid, Language Development, Positive Guidance, fire safety and hazards, children's heath issues, child development, lead poisoning, nutrition, stress and time management, money management, AIDS and HIV awareness, child abuse and neglect and child safety.
Care providers not only learn a lot of different things, but by signing up they are eligible to receive $175 worth of toys, supplies, books and other things. In addition, they will receive one free safety item such as a fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, first aid kit, or carbon monoxide detector when they sign up for the program.
For anyone who would like to join the group, call 1-800-499-6597, ext. 281 or call Steenwyk at 236-0325.
Steenwyk is just as excited about the program as she used to be while she was teaching school. It gives her another opportunity to do one of the things she enjoys the most.
She has plans to do more traveling and someday write about the 38 states that she has visited.