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WVU child care director receives national recognition for mentoring

It’s Wednesday, right before lunch at Bright Horizons’ WVU Medicine Child Development Center, and Amy Cook is doing triple duty.

Quadruple duty, even.

Cook, who is director of the center, was fielding one phone call after the other, while greeting parents and circling around all that paperwork making like the Appalachians on her desk.

“We’re busy again,” she said, with a grin crinkling up from underneath her pandemic-precaution face mask.

“They’re back in town.”

She was referring to students: WVU students, specifically. Wednesday was the first day of the fall term.

From its perch behind Milan Puskar Stadium, on the university’s bustling medical campus in Evansdale, the child care center is jumping most days, in fact.

The center caters to the families of students in that community.

People who are moms and dads — not to mention medical residents and other people who make the hospital and all those clinics go.

On this day, Evansdale was going at a pitch to which everyone is accustomed.

“Hey, if you can bear with me for a minute, I’ll find out and call you right back,” Cook said into a telephone, over the chirping of another incoming call. 

“‘Bye, buddy,” she cooed to a 3-year-old, with his head on the shoulder of his scrub-wearing dad, as they scooted by.

“You’ll go home and feel all better, and we’ll see you tomorrow, OK?”

There’s always a tomorrow at the center, dealing in the immediate, as it does.

Another morning to get to work while dropping off the kids at Cook’s place along the way.

Cook, though, just received national recognition for looking to a future that unspools well past the next morning.

She was recently named a Mentor of the Year with Project SEARCH, the national organization that helps people with various degrees of disability find meaningful employment.

Since its beginnings at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996, the transitional program has helped more than 30,000 young adults do just that.

WVU Medicine is the only Project SEARCH affiliate in the Mountain State, the organization said.

“We love our association with Project SEARCH,” said Cook, who moved from her native Florida to Mineral County with her family as a little girl.

She’s a WVU graduate who has worked in early childhood education for 15 years.

“I’m honored to get the recognition, but I’m happier for Jules, because she got the job,” Cook said.

She was referring to Julianna Heldreth — “Miss Jules,” to everyone at the center — who does a lot of assisting for the teachers who tend to the center’s infant-to-toddler contingent.

‘Yours, if you want it’

Heldreth, 20, a Marion County native and East Fairmont High School graduate, completed the Project SEARCH program last year.

Which meant lots of one-on-one sessions with Cook, who helped her with her resume, while giving her tips and other feedback on job interviews.

Cook set the student up with an internship, pairing her with two veteran teachers while she worked through the program.

When Heldreth cleared it, the first person she heard from at the center was the director.

“We have an opening for a full-time job, Jules,” Cook said.

“Yours, if you want it. You’d be great at it. All the kids love you.”

Heldreth laughed.

“Did I ever want it, oh boy,” she said.

“When I was in third grade, the teacher had us write an essay on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to work with little kids. This is my dream job.”

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