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Published: Friday, 10/18/2002

Foster mother praised for her work in helping displaced children cope

Jessann Lorenzia Woodhouse, a longtime health-care worker who with her husband, Vincent, earned statewide recognition in retirement for their service as foster parents, died Oct. 9 in Toledo Hospital from complications of a stroke. She was 74.

She had high blood pressure and heart problems, her husband said.

The couple decided to become foster parents by chance. They were watching a television program about abused children one Saturday in 1994, and Mr. Woodhouse proposed opening their home. Mrs. Woodhouse agreed; the couple received training through Lucas County Children Services, and little more than a year later, they were named foster parents of the year by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

More than 80 children stayed with the Woodhouses in the years after, including two currently in the home.

“What I found out with these children is that you shouldn't yell at them,” Mrs. Woodhouse told The Blade in 1995. “Never let them feel they're unwanted. Never let them feel you're better than them because they're in your home.”

The couple offered acceptance, even love, and guidance in such basics as cooking and personal hygiene. The children, in turn, were expected to follow the family's rules and principles.

Her husband recalled attending graduations at Scott High School and the University of Toledo for children who had been in their home.

“Those are the most inspiring and elevating moments in our lives, to see them as our children, that we helped them to become examples of society,” Mr. Woodhouse said.

Before coming to live with the couple, “some of them almost gave up. Anger took over their heart,” her husband said. “But they got rid of the anger through good counsel and good treatment.

“They found out that somebody in the world cared for them, and they turned for the better,” he said.

Mrs. Woodhouse was a member of First Church of God and a former member of its usher board. She belonged to a small-group ministry in the church that met in members' homes.

“She was a very jubilant person,” said Mildred Gibson, also a member of First Church of God. “She believed that she could encourage you with whatever you were going through. [Mr. and Mrs. Woodhouse] made a real joy out of doing for the children.”

The couple received recognition for their work from the mayor and the Ohio legislature.

Mrs. Woodhouse retired in 1993 as a home health-care worker. She had received certification in the field from the University of Toledo. She had been an assistant in a doctor's office for about seven years after moving to Toledo from her native Jamaica.

She grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica, was a graduate of St. Simons College, and became a registered nurse, working at Spanish Town Public Hospital.

In Toledo, Mrs. Woodhouse was a former secretary for the West Indian American Cricket Club.

Surviving are her husband of 27 years, Vincent; daughters, Victoria Barnes and Jennifer Bamba; son, O'Neil Woodhouse, and seven grandchildren.

Wake services will be from 6 to 8 tonight in the Dale Mortuary. Funeral services will be at noon tomorrow in First Church of God.



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