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Local moms win awards for helping kids

Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, MA) - 5/21/2014

May 21--ANDOVER -- Jessica Bunting first came to the Professional Center for Child Development when her then newborn son needed physical therapy.

"His neck and shoulder muscles were underdeveloped so that's how we found the center," she said.

Ten years later the center is still a major part of her life.

Bunting is one of the two mothers who received the Children First Award from the Andover center. The awards are presented annually to an individual or organization that enhances the loves of children through hard work and dedication.

For the past 41 years, the Professional Center for Child Development has provided educational, therapeutic and social services to children of all abilities, aged birth to 11. Their goal is to help children achieve their full potential.

Bunting said she was shocked when she found out she was receiving the award.

"I had no idea this award even existed. It's so sweet," she said. "The teachers and the staff there are such wonderful people. They are the most caring and nurturing people I have ever met and to somehow be a part of that is great."

When her son began physical therapy at home, a physical therapist soon noticed the family dog Berkley.

"I told the physical therapist that Berkley was a therapy dog and she told me I should bring her to the center," she said. "We were just volunteering here and there at different places."

Bunting and Berkley soon became regular volunteers at the center. After Berkley's passing she rescued another dog, Sunday, and had her trained and licensed to take over the important role Berkley started at the center. Bunting and Sunday volunteer each week with the Developmental Day School students at the center.

"I love working there," she said. "It's become a part of my life."

Bunting volunteers in classrooms where most of the students are in wheelchairs.

"We try to get them to exercise even if minimally," she said. "Sunday helps engage them in this."

She says she has grown attached to the students and teachers she sees weekly.

"Every time I walk in I get a hug and a kiss or I give them," she said. "I've become quite attached to them."

In the early years of her volunteering, she would bring her son with her.

"I wanted to teach them how important it is to give back whatever you can, even if it's just a well behaved dog," she said.

Methuen resident Catherine Rose said she was also surprised when she found out about receiving the award.

"I thought 'Why me?' " she said. "I'm just a mom."

Rose has two daughters with various medical and developmental challenges. Inspired by one of her daughter's combined hearing and vision impairments, Rose developed a product called LightAide -- a teaching tool for people with low vision and cognitive disabilities.

"I wanted to share the technology with the world that I have seen to help other kids," she said.

She said The Professional Center for Child Development has become like "extended family' especially when her child was first diagnosed.

"They're extended family, but just really smart extended family," she said. "We could always ask them questions and tell them our concerns and they would genuinely listen."

Rose believes anyone can do what she does.

"To quote Ratatouille, 'Anyone could cook,' " she said. "Meaning anyone could come up with the ideas I come with. Just as long as they push themselves."

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