Saint Francis celebrates three recent retirements representing 105 years of combined service in child welfare

Saint Francis Ministries considers ourselves fortunate to have leaders so committed to children, families, and the mission to bring them healing and hope. Multiple members of the Senior Leadership Team have served with Saint Francis for decades, providing a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience to the work we do. Last year, we bid adieu to three of them, as they retired after a combined 105 years in child welfare.

Cheryl Rathbun calls it a day after four and half decades

Saint Francis Ministries owes Linda a debt. Because she had no desire to move to Ellsworth, Kansas, Saint Francis got Cheryl Rathbun 45 years ago. One of their professors at Pittsburgh State University had given Linda, Cheryl’s roommate, a heads-up about a job opening at the Saint Francis Ellsworth Residential facility. Linda wasn’t interested, but Cheryl thought she’d give it a look. She drove five hours up to Ellsworth to interview, and the rest is history.

For the recently graduated social worker, Ellsworth was the last place Cheryl had in mind to begin her career.

“From the minute I stepped foot on that campus, all I wanted was that job,” she says. “Out of applicants from KU, K-State, and Pittsburgh, I got the job, starting as the bachelor level social worker.”

Saint Francis offered three residential programs in 1978, located in Ellsworth, Salina, Kansas, and Lake Placid, New York. Identical in structure, each program included a social worker, primary counselor, assistant director of clinical, director of clinical, and a support staff of laundress, cooks, and a secretary. As part of such a small staff, Cheryl quickly realized that she wanted to do more. With support from Saint Francis, she earned her master’s in social work and then received a promotion to assistant director, which today would actually be the director’s position. At the time, Saint Francis required that all directors be priests, so the highest position a layperson could occupy was assistant director.

“Within a year, I knew I was a clinician at heart,” she says. “So, I moved into the very first therapist position. I wrote the job description, presented it, and became the first therapist at any of the residentials. After that, I moved into Director of Clinical at Ellsworth and spent 22 years there.”

By the time Saint Francis received the Kansas out-of-home contract in 2000, Cheryl was clinical director of all Saint Francis Residentials. Ultimately, she would move from there to Vice President of Clinical Services to Chief Clinical Officer.

For someone who never intended to remain in Kansas, once she committed to Saint Francis, she knew she would stay, especially after she met Cory Rathbun, a primary counselor on staff when Cheryl was hired. A VP over Reintegration, Foster Care Homes and outpatient behavior health in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska Cory retired three years ago after 43 years with Saint Francis.

“So marrying Cory probably had a lot to with it,” she says with a laugh. “But on a serious note, I’d say it was the spiritual component of our work and the ability to talk about spirituality. And when I say, ‘spirituality,’ I don’t mean religion. The fact that we could talk about spirituality and acknowledge that it’s such an important part of our work – mind, body, and spirit – had everything to do with my love of the work at Saint Francis.”

Well, maybe not everything.

“I figured my greatest satisfaction would be the 22 years I spent at the residential program in Ellsworth,” she says. “But I’ve always thought that it’s such an honor that parents trusts us or that state trusts us by placing a child with us and how important it is that we honor that trust and do our best, so always looking for new and creative ways to build relationships with those kids and families has been satisfying, too … But I’ve also had just as much joy working with staff to mentor and coach them to be successful. And then in the most recent position, I’ve enjoyed helping entire programs be successful.”

And she’s done a lot of that by working at system level across states – from starting the first adolescent inpatient sexual abuse program to training other service providers how to treat adolescent sexual abuse. During her career, she’s appeared on television forums; participated in the development and implementation of PRTF standards in Kansas; influenced development of Joint Commission standards for Foster Care homes, adoption and case management through an advisory committee; served on a task forces for the development and implementation of the privatized KanCare in Kansas and national standards in Child Welfare League of America; and authored several articles on the treatment of adolescent males. Saint Francis supported system changing activity as part of the job, benefiting children and families.

“So although I’ve loved my direct work with children and families,” she says, “I’m glad that Saint Francis has always supported system changing as part of the job, benefiting those same children and families.”

Cornwell honored at Governor’s Conference

Pamela Cornwell, SFM’s former clinical services director of trauma practices, was honored at the 47th Annual Governor’s Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect for her work on developing clinical strategies related to chronic stress and trauma. Pam retired in August after a 30-year career in child welfare, 11 of which were spent at Saint Francis.

While at SFM, she chaired the Trauma Informed Care Committee, addressing staff secondary trauma, providing trauma training, and assessing trauma in children. She consulted with community partners in child welfare, working closely with social workers, parents, and caregivers to address trauma-related behaviors.

Over the last three decades, Pam has worked with multi-generational families, elderly abuse survivors, and children in child welfare. She has also been involved in program start-ups and holds certifications in various therapeutic models.

“As a member of the Governor’s Conference Planning Committee, we are tasked with nominating individuals and organizations who have displayed exemplary work in child abuse prevention that has had a state-wide impact on children and families in Kansas,” said Christy Sanders, director of training. “When thinking about my co-workers who have had such an impact, Pam naturally came to mind since she has always been a role model to me, has worked with multiple children, families, and organizations, and honestly deserves an award for all she has accomplished in her career.”

Cornwell received the Governor’s Conference Overall Conference Award in October for her contribution to child welfare in Kansas. Sponsored by the Kansas Children’s Service League, the annual Governor’s Conference features more than 20 co-sponsoring organizations and is the most comprehensive conference in Kansas about the prevention of child maltreatment.

Buchanan retires after three decades with Saint Francis

Otis Avenue staff in Salina celebrated more than Christmas on December 15. Before the chili and cookie contests, a cake appeared to celebrate Mary Buchanan’s retirement after 30 years with Saint Francis Ministries.

A staple of the Finance Department, Mary worked in accounts receivable. Her cubicle neighbor for eight years, Janella Leibham says, “Mary was a great asset and had lots of knowledge about Saint Francis. I’ll miss our morning chit-chats and her infectious laugh.”

Her co-workers in Finance also threw a surprise party for Mary on December 27, two days before she officially left to enjoy her retirement. Best wishes, Mary, for many happy days of relaxation and time with those you love.

Picture of Shane Schneider
Shane Schneider

Shane is the Editorial Content Manager for the Marketing and Communications Department at Saint Francis Ministries.

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