foundationAmbrose family designated as 2010 Family of the Year

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

UTICA — For the last 19 years, The Family Nurturing Center of Central New York in Utica has fostered an awareness of the importance of nurturing family relationships by honoring families who exemplify nurturing attitudes and behaviors.

It was a unanimous decision — the Ambrose family was chosen Family of the Year by their community in May. The Family Nurturing Center was founded in 1988 to provide parenting education and family support programs. The agency offers services that empower parents and children to strengthen their relationships and to meet individual and family needs. It also provides training for individuals who work with families, toward the goal of preventing child abuse and building nurturing families.

This year’s nominees will be acknowledged at The Family of the Year Celebration dinner on Thursday, June 24 at the Radisson Hotel Utica Centre.

“I’m excited,” said Donna LaTour-Elefante, founder and executive director of The Family Nurturing Center. “The Ambrose family is the perfect family. They are very devoted to their Catholic faith and Doug and Sheila [parents] really believe in influencing their children in a positive way.”

LaTour-Elefante explained the nominating and judging process. “We ask the community to think about who they think are good role models,” she said. “After that, volunteers from the community interview and judge the nominated families. The Ambroses were nominated by seven people.”

The seven individuals submitted a letter of nomination describing why their nominee should  be considered for the Family of the Year award. They described how the Ambrose family portrayed some nurturing values. They were instructed to describe the ways the family promotes self-esteem in children and demonstrates that they value and respect each other’s thoughts, feelings and needs, and describe the ways the family demonstrates support, encouragement, acceptance and positive communication. Additionally, they were asked to describe the ways the family provides structure through family values, rules and guidance, and uses alternatives to physical punishment (time out, loss of privilege, grounding).

In April, the Awards Selection Committee read the letters that described the relationship and exemplary family life of Sheila, Doug and their children, Antonia, Augusta and Dominick.

According to LaTour-Elefante, one nominator noted, “The love displayed in the Ambrose family, from parent to child, from sibling to sibling, has an aura that lights up a room and there is a rhythm of joy, respect, cherishing and dedication to each other, a rhythm that can be described as a symphony of love.”

Another writer explained that, in the Ambrose family, to love means to discipline. Instead of scolding or yelling, the parents are seen listening and explaining, and the children respond with understanding, cooperation and respect. They communicate exceptionally well and demonstrate strong family values. The family exudes genuine happiness — not perfection, but pure, simple joy.

Doug is a history professor at Hamilton College and Sheila is a writer and book editor. Both parents are dedicated professionals with doctoral degrees. The children — 12-year-old Antonia, eight-year-old Augusta and six-year-old Dominick, are home-schooled and are nurtured to become passionate readers. LaTour-Elefante said that they are also encouraged to explore their individual interests in music and outdoor activities. They are encouraged to be themselves and to learn from others. Their efforts are praised and their accomplishments are acknowledged.

According to LaTour-Elefante, the children are clear reflections of how their parents have nurtured a philosophy and lifestyle of love, respect, humility, care for each other, compassion for others, active spirituality and worship, patience and peacefulness. One nominator spoke for many in wishing that all families could somehow live like the Ambroses in the way they treat one another and their neighbors.

The Ambrose family attends Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica where they are active parishioners. Antonia is a member of the choir and an altar server and Augusta is in training to follow in her sister’s footsteps. Dominick attends Kinder Music and is preparing to make his First Communion next year. Doug teaches Religious Education to young teens and Sheila edits the Lourdes quarterly newsletter.

The Ambrose family is featured in “Watch with Me,” a 2008 documentary on the practice of perpetual adoration. “Our family shares an amazing devotion to Eucharistic Adoration,” said Sheila. “By appearing in the documentary, I wanted to show how it involves the family. Faith is a robust, healthy part of our life.

“From day one, our faith has been very central to us. I feel that these children belong to God and we are serving God by taking care of them. We are the first face of God to these children.”

Sheila said she believes the passage from the Bible in which Christ said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” proves to be very comforting and it inspires her in her calling as a parent. “My children and I are not strangers,” Sheila said. “They know I’m not perfect but they know that I love them. We are a very verbal family — we talk about everything. When I make mistakes, I apologize to my children and ask for forgiveness— it’s part of respecting them.”

She also said that the image of the shepherd is strong in her mind as she shepherds them toward independence.

Sheila and Doug said they feel extremely humbled by their designation as Family of the Year. “When I first heard of it, I didn’t feel deserving because we aren’t a perfect family,” Sheila said. “Our family loves one another deeply and people notice that. There’s a hunger for that in this world.”

“I feel incredibly honored,” said Doug. “I’m very grateful that through the grace of God, I am part of a great family. My greatest pride in my children is when they manifest the virtues of generosity, humility and joy — that’s what makes me most happy and grateful.”

The Ambrose family is looking forward to attending the Family of the Year Celebration dinner. Sheila said the children are excited and feel proud.

The celebration is open to the public. For more information, call (315) 738-9773.

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