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Sharon woman honored for her work with foster children

Judy Cockerton (center) with Brianna Pollock (left) and Jenna Pollock at the 2010 Angel in Adoption awards.
Judy Cockerton (center) with Brianna Pollock (left) and Jenna Pollock at the 2010 Angel in Adoption awards. Credit: Arthur Pollock

A GREAT HONOR: Judy Cockerton remembers walking with her daughter in the Lego aisle of a toy store that Cockerton owned in Brookline about 10 years ago. A foster parent, Cockerton had two sisters in her care at the time and knew there were thousands of other kids in need of foster and adoptive homes, and was wondering what she could do to spread the word.

“I thought ‘OK, there’s about 25,000 kids coming out of age of adoption in the system who, if they’re not adopted or go into foster care, are at risk for becoming homeless or incarcerated,’ ” said Cockerton, a 61-year-old resident of Sharon. “So I thought, ‘What am I going to do about it?’ ”

She sold the toy store and quit a teaching job, and for the past 10 years has devoted her working life to three nonprofits she created: The Treehouse Foundation, a mixed-income, multi-generational housing community in Easthampton; Sibling Connections, a statewide organization that reunites siblings separated by foster care; and Birdsong Farm, which runs hands-on educational programs for children to develop work skills.

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She has won awards for her work, notably the 2010 Angel in Adoption award by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, but the biggest was announced Wednesday: a $100,000 Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Innovation. She will be honored at a ceremony in San Francisco in February and will pump the prize money right back into her nonprofits, she said.

“I was delighted to hear I was in the running, thrilled to make the final cut, and over the moon when I heard they believe my work over the past decade to inspire re-envisioning foster care through my nonprofits was worthy of the award,” Cockerton said.

The need is huge for people to take in foster children or adopt them, she said, but too often people think that’s the only way they can help. There are a myriad of other ways, she said, mostly by volunteering in organizations like hers that cater to the needs of foster children.

“People can go to conferences, help fund innovative programs, be a volunteer counselor, be part of our monthly programs around the state,” she said. “They can be a visiting resource to a child. We have a Suitcase Project, to make sure kids in foster care don’t have to carry their belongings around in a garbage bag, but can have suitcases and duffel bags to use.”

She said her programs have seen hundreds of volunteers donate their time and that “with 12,000 children in foster care in Massachusetts, there is always room for more support.”

Birdsong Farm was created in 2010 in a rented barn in Rehoboth, and the group is now seeking to buy land in Southeastern Massachusetts for a permanent home. In that area, and western Massachusetts, the need for foster care is the greatest, Cockerton said.

Now in its seventh year, The Purpose Prize is said to be the country’s only major award for social entrepreneurs and other problem-solvers in later life, recognizing people 60 and older. It is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and is awarded by Encore.org, formerly Civic Ventures, a nonprofit that promotes new careers.

“This is the first time a Purpose Prize was awarded to someone from Massachusetts,” Cockerton said, adding, “but it’s not about one little nonprofit but an entire movement, and it’s really about honoring kids. I’m delighted to find my work worthy of their investment.”

For information about Cockerton’s work, visit www.treehousecommunities.orgwww.siblingconnections.com  and www.birdsongfarm.org

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Paul M. Totino of Dedham was hired as executive vice president in commercial lending and finance at Needham Bank, operating from the branch in Needham. He previously was executive vice president and chief financial officer with Middlesex Savings Bank. Richard L. Buttermore of Carver was named senior vice president of research and development at Needham Bank. Most recently he was a senior vice president at Sovereign Bank. . . . Paul Cunningham was named project manager/estimator at Hill & Partners Inc. in Weymouth. He had been senior designer/project manager with WBI Inc. in Boston. . . . Harlan A. Bartlett of Plymouth received the 2012 K.O. Hodgson Distinguished Service Award from the New England Water Works Association, a regional group of waterworks professionals. Bartlett is a retired partner of Bartlett & Brillon LLC of Walpole, a manufacturer’s representative for valves and filtration equipment. . . .

Southcoast Hospitals Group, which includes Tobey Hospital in Wareham, received an Approval with Commendation from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons, for its systemwide oncology program. The three-year award is given to facilities committed to high-quality cancer care and involves rigorous evaluation and review, said Eileen Sugrue-McElearney,  vice president for oncology services for Southcoast Health System.  

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