Suzanne Geske's life is somewhat similar to that of an old children's rhyme. Except this petite, spitfire of a woman knows exactly what to do with all of the hundreds of children in her life.
As the founder of Foster Children's Foundation Inc., Geske's days are filled with helping children and foster parents acquire the necessities of life, such as toiletries, clothing and school supplies.
She mentors teens and in her free time, sits on a number of boards for various nonprofits and organizations throughout the county.
The mother of two college-age children and a gaggle of others at the foundation, Geske revels in her busy schedule and enjoys helping others whenever she can.
In this edition of Community Connection, staff writer Melissa Wilson chats with Geske about jamming on her guitar, the blizzard of 1993 and her life as a child in Texas.
MW: Your background is in business. You even had your own marketing company for a while. How did you get into working with children?
SG: Well, it's kind of interesting. I was actually, when I was young, I was in an orphanage myself.
SG: For a short time. Any time you spend any length of time in an orphanage, in a foster home, basically wearing the shoes of these kids, you know the fears, you know the questions, you know how alone it feels. And you know that you have no idea where your next meal's going to come from, where your clothes are going to come from, who's going to teach you how to ride a bike, who's going to help you with your homework.
During the time that I was in the orphanage I would actually hear other kids tell me the reason they were there was because nobody loved them. And it's hard to even imagine that there's any child that no one loves.
But again having been there, lived it and seen it ... The day where we were able to go back with our family was the happiest day of our lives, but at the same time it was sad because we were losing our other family, which was the 100 kids that were still in the orphanage that weren't going to have the love and the family that we were going to have.
I remember saying to myself at that time that I was going to do something someday. I really didn't know what it would be, so the foundation wasn't really planned.
MW: How old were you when you were in foster care?
SG: I was 6 and 7, and I had three younger brothers. And I think it's important to mention that I was actually separated from my brothers and when I say that, we were at the same facility but we were in different dorms. So I didn't get to see them except but once a year when we had a magician come to the orphanage and they would do a show.
And it's one of the reasons why in addition to the resource center here we also have several events throughout the year. And at those events you'd be amazed how many times siblings that have been separated into different foster homes get to spend that time together and it's a blessing and very heartwarming.
MW: Your experience really gives you an inside view into what these kids are going through. Do you ever get a chance to sit down with the kids and get to know them?
SG: It really depends on the youth.
Another facet of our organization that we actually piloted in 2005 and it's in full swing now is called Tomorrow Matters. It's a mentoring program.
We work with foster teens who will be aging out of the foster care system, and when they do they won't have the luxury of calling their parents when they have a question: How do I cook a grilled cheese sandwich? How do I get car insurance? How do I open a bank account?
And so we take these teens and in a group mentoring environment we teach them life skills, furthering education, employment preparation, cooking, the dangers of drugs, alcohol and gangs - basically what they need to know to survive.
The kids become like our kids. We absolutely love them. There's just something about having 100 kids come up and hug you or make you a Christmas card.
MW: It sounds like you've got a lot going on, but in your free time, if you have any, what do you enjoy doing?
SG: I play guitar and sing.
SG: Get together with friends and do just about anything. Cookout on the grill. I love to travel.
MW: Back to playing guitar and singing. Have you played anywhere I'd know, or is it just for your own enjoyment?
SG: It's, (she laughs) it's really for my own enjoyment.
In much younger years I preformed a little bit in Texas with my brother - we played and sang.
But you know your life changes a little bit. I remember when I had my children the guitar went in the closet and it came out when it was time to play Baa, Baa Black Sheep at the day care or Kum Ba Yah at the campfire girl camp out.
When my kids got older I was able to pull it back out.
MW: What's your favorite kind of music to play and sing?
SG: That's a really tough question ... That's a really tough question.
If I was going to categorize it, I would probably say folk. But I love jazz, blues ... I love it all.
MW: Were you born in Texas? Is that where you grew up?
SG: I was born in Dallas.
MW: How did you make your way to Georgia?
SG: We got transferred here in 1993.
MW: So it was a work transfer?
SG: Yes, with work.
MW: OK. Where in Gwinnett do you live now?
SG: I actually live in Duluth. We've been there since the blizzard of '93.
MW: Oh yes, I remember that.
SG: We got here two weeks before the blizzard. My kids said, "Does it snow in Georgia?" and I said, "No, it's just like Dallas."
We'd been here two weeks, I think, and there was the blizzard.
MW: And your kids were thinking you said it didn't snow. Now here we are again with snow on the ground. It's funny how that works out. So what else do you fill your days with?
SG: You know I love being involved in the community. You asked what I like to do in my free time.
I'm sure I'm involved in way too many things, but I love it all. Anytime I can do something to help someone else, I'm the one that benefits from that.
I enjoy people so I'm involved in a lot of different organizations.
I guess if I had a motto or something to live by, it would be to try to make a positive influence on every life I meet.
MW: That's a big ambition ... but a worthy one.
SG: Well even if it's just tiny, just a smile. Because I know what a difference it makes to me when somebody just says hello or smiles.