Catholic Courier

Posted: December 21, 2009

Courier photo by Mike Crupi

Julie and Joe Cohn, who are moving into the foster-care wing of the Daystar home next month, hold one of the infants being cared for in the facility’s medical child-care wing during a visit May 15.

Couple devote lives to care for infants

By Rob Cullivan/Catholic Courier

When she was a young woman, Julie Cohn, 46, considered entering religious life. Later on, she decided she wanted to experience the joys of motherhood. Now, in a sense, she's about to experience aspects of both worlds.

She and her husband, Joe Cohn, 49, have been married for 14 years. Although she never became a nun, in 1996 she did become an agregé, or lay associate, of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Cohns are parishioners at St. Rita Church, Webster, where Julie also teaches fifth- and sixth-grade science as well as fifth-grade religion and English/language arts at the diocesan school of the same name.

Noting that they are unable to have their own children, the Cohns said that they've decided to share their love of children by becoming live-in foster parents at Daystar, a ministry sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Operating in Pittsford, Daystar is a certified foster-care home for children who have serious medical problems stemming from such causes as premature birth, neurological disorders, feeding issues and/or the drug and alcohol addictions of their birth mothers. The home accepts children ranging from newborn to age 3.

"These babies need someone to take care and love them," Julie said.

Daystar can accommodate up to two foster babies at a time, and the Cohns are slated to welcome their first foster baby in July, they said. Julie added that she was excited to be able to help the Sisters of St. Joseph in this way.

"I feel so honored to be able to minister in one of their ministries," she said.

Since it opened in 1988, Daystar has cared for 75 foster children, according to staff member Sister Kathleen Fletcher. Of the 75 children, all but nine were eventually adopted, she said. Three eventually went back to live with their biological families, and the remaining six children passed away while at Daystar, she said.

Until now, Sisters of St. Joseph have served as foster parents to the babies, noted Coleen Emblidge, Daystar's associate director. However, as the number of sisters available to staff the ministry have decreased, and as those who have been doing it have grown older, Daystar decided it was time to recruit a lay couple to serve as foster parents, Emblidge said.

The Cohns will be the first live-in, lay couple to serve as Daystar foster parents.

One of the sisters whose work paved the way for the Cohns is Sister Anne Maura Morris, a foster parent who has worked at Daystar since its opening. She plans to retire from the ministry in June at the age of 90.

"Anybody who wants to stay young should get in this work," Sister Morris said with a smile.

She added that the Cohns will benefit from caring for the babies.

"It's the best therapy you can have to just sit and hold a baby," she said.

The Cohns noted that they are thrilled to be able to care for whatever infants come their way. Julie added with a chuckle that the couple will be upgrading their lifestyle by moving from their current home in East Rochester to the Daystar house.

"When you see the house (in Pittsford) you realize we're not really giving up much," she said.

On a more serious note, she said the real benefit to living at Daystar is the atmosphere.

"It's a really beautiful place," she said. "You walk in the door and feel the peace."

The Cohns added that they spent a lot of time praying about and discussing their decision to move to Daystar, and have concluded that they are meant to do this.

"It's God's will," Joe said.

In addition to its foster-care program, Daystar also operates in the home's finished basement a day-care center for as many as 10 infants and toddlers who have special medical needs, Emblidge noted. The center, which offers nurse-supervised care, opened in 2002, and is reportedly the only one of its kind in New York state, she said. Among its services, the center offers music and massage therapy for the children in its care, she added.

Mary Erturk, a registered neonatal nurse who serves as Daystar's director, said most day-care centers in the state are set up to accommodate children age 3 and up. In an era when many mothers are working outside the home, Daystar's day-care center provides a vital service to families with children who have special needs, she said.

"They need a place where they can feel comfortable dropping a baby off," she said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For information on Daystar, visit www.daystarssj.org.

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