Unsung Heroes Make All the Difference In Children’s Lives

Each year, as part of its mission to help foster good child development in at-risk situations, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) honors three caregivers — one in each of the state’s grand divisions.
This year, the “Unsung Hero” awards went to three outstanding women who have gone “above and beyond”, and we’re excited to tell you about them.

Wanda Newman, Mountain City.

During her first and second pregnancies, Wanda was part of Healthy Families Tennessee, an evidence-based home visiting program that is one of PCAT’s most successful programs. She received in-home visits from her Healthy Families coordinator to help learn about everything from bonding to safety to child development.

“If I ever have any questions with discipline or with trying to feed my child because he’s a picky eater, we just go over everything,” Newman says of the support she receives from Healthy Families’ advisers. “And the books that she has, if I have any questions we’ll look it up, and we’ll figure it out together, and we’ll work with him. We do everything from making toys out of household items to, like, she went over electrical safety and stuff like with me and my child. And the ABC’s of safety. She just helps me out tremendously with everything and understanding everything because this is my second child, but there is three and half years between my first one and him. So, everything feels new in different ways.”

Newman was nominated in part because of her enthusiasm for referring other caregivers to Healthy Families and PCAT programs such as parent connection parties and community baby showers. She was also recognized for her compassion and generous spirit, reflected in many ways, including her frequent donations of baby clothes, breast pumps and other items to families in need.

Michelle Williams, Memphis.

Sometimes family members become heroes just by stepping into their families’ lives during times of need. Michelle Williams certainly fits that bill.

After raising three sons of her own to adulthood, Williams became a parent again following the unexpected death of her sister in September of 2017. She took responsibility for children ages 13, 11 and 8, gaining custody of them through the courts and providing a nurturing environment for them during a crucial time in their lives. Most importantly, Williams immediately sought counseling for the children to deal with the loss of their mother and any trauma they might have suffered prior to her death.

Teachers and neighbors alike have praised Williams for her selflessness and devotion to the children, with her nominator noting that she is “parenting them with devotion and purpose. She has made it her mission to raise them in a loving, caring, and structured home. She is succeeding and so are the children.”

Ethel Johnson, Nashville.

While almost every family member who steps into a caregiving role because of a biological parent’s inability to provide a home is an unsung hero, Ethel Johnson has been described as redefining the role.

Already caring for her 11-year-old granddaughter, Johnson helped intervene in the case of her 2-year-old nephew when his mother was unable to care for him. After she saw signs of difficulty coping and and processing emotional cues — both of which were causing him to act out be labeled as a “problem child” — Johnson found help in the form of a therapist, who diagnosed her grand-nephew with autism. The pair also worked for more than a year with an in-home behavior analyst to support his development.

As a result, Johnson has given her grand-nephew the ability to communicate with his friends and family, and she herself has become a passionate advocate for other caregivers with children on the spectrum.


Tennessee is full of great people who are making a meaningful difference in the lives of young children.  We appreciate PCAT for bringing these three women to our attention, and we are grateful to Ethel, Wanda and Michelle for inspiring us!

By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

You might also be interested in: Serve & Return: How Child Development Starts at Home

View All
Support TQEE - Like Our Site!