Bernice Weissbourd Award

Family Focus presented Samuel Deutsch Professor Emerita Dolores “Dodie” Norton their Bernice Weissbourd Award for Family Support at their anniversary gala on June 18, 2015.

This lifetime achievement award is presented annually in recognition of an honoree's substantial contributions to the field of early childhood education.

Family Focus is a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to promoting the well-being of children from birth by supporting and strengthening their families in and with their communities.

Bernice Weissbourd, a leading scholar in the field of child development, started Family Focus in 1976 with colleagues at SSA and a mostly volunteer staff. They opened a small drop-in center for parents with young children in a room at Miller School in Evanston, IL.

Through her work with Family Focus, Ms. Weissbourd is credited with directing national attention on the critical first three years of life and the need to provide support for young children and their families. Under Ms. Weissbourd’s guidance, Family Focus grew quickly, opening new centers and developing new programs in response to community needs.

Today, there are seven Family Focus direct service centers throughout Greater Chicago that provide holistic family support services to about 20,000 individuals annually, including parents and children enrolled in center programming and individuals through outreach, short-term, and crisis services.

Bernice Weissbourd's June 18th Remarks

I present this award to Dodie with a heart full of emotions. One is awe because it's such an honor to be presenting this to a giant in the field of early childhood, of family support, of social work, but those are just the pieces of Dodie's contributions to the broad field of human development.

She is well known as a researcher and there is already a waiting line for her forthcoming book detailing a 20-year study she has done on language development in children living in poor minority families.

She is beloved as a teacher and scholar. Students at SSA, University of Chicago seek out Professor Norton to talk to—whether they have questions about their doctoral thesis or are disturbed about a love relationship breaking up. A measure of their devotion is seen in the number of tables they have organized to be present tonight.

She is highly respected in professional organizations as a speaker, as an advisor, and as a board member who can be counted on for thoughtful, analytical contributions to board decisions. Serving on the National Board of '03 with Dodie was a lesson in how to quietly and gracefully be a forceful, influential leader.

So, when you read her many accomplishments—and I'm not mentioning them because I'm sure you well read them—you'll have a sense of the quality of the woman behind the impressive data.

There are times when the professional and personal intersect. And tonight is one of those moments. While my admiration and respect for her professional work is boundless, I have the privilege of counting Dodie as a close personal friend. I know the depth of her understanding. I've experienced her sensitivity and healing power, I've witnessed her compassion for others. Fundamental in Dodie's life is the belief that all the children are our children, and as she embraces friendship, so she embraces humanity.

I also know Dodie well enough to know she is cringing and squirming at this moment. She wants to escape into the woodwork. She doesn't like to be complimented like this. She doesn't value herself the way we value her. But I hope tonight she leaves here feeling absolutely wonderful. Feeling the joy of having made a difference in so many people's lives.

Dodie, you are remarkable and I present this to you with much love.

Dodie Norton's June 18th Remarks

Thank you Bernice for that overly generous introduction.

I do accept this Award with honor and awe, but not for myself alone. It belongs to many others who have contributed to my work. I share this Award with all of them.

First, Bernice Weissbourd, my inspiration and longtime friend:

Bernice, this is truly, your Award as the founder of Family Focus. Thirty years ago, FF was just a passionate gleam in your eye. That gleam has become your legacy, burning fiercely in the missions of today’s seven Family Focus Centers in the Chicago area.

Merri Ex, you also share this Award. The passion, sense of mission, boundless energy, and stewardship you bring to Family Focus as the President and CEO inspires us all.

The Award also belongs to the Mothers and Children who permitted my Research Assistants to bring cameras into their homes and lives from Day Care thru Proms.

It is shared by the major organizations that supported the research, especially the Irving B. Harris Foundation and the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Most importantly, this Award belongs to my Graduate Research Assistants, who wielded my cameras, and compiled and analyzed data over the years.  Several of them are here tonight: Karen Freel, Lorraine Kubicek, Jacquelynne Vincent, Latricia Booker, Meghan Martz, Phyllis West, and Nucha Isarowong, my current Research Coordinator and Collaborator. If there others here, please let me know.

Finally, the lessons of Family Support have enriched my life with my two sons, David and Jonathan Norton who taught me first hand the realities of early human development, and thus validated the principles of Family Focus.

I thank you.