By Rachel Gill
Theresa Tomasi credits her 28 adopted children with teaching her everything about everything.
“It’s a great experience to be a parent, believe me, there is never a dull moment,” Tomasi said. “My children have taught me all I know today and all about myself.”
Since 1962, in addition to the children she has adopted herself, Tomasi has aided in 9,000 adoptions through her work at Lund, a family treatment and support center for pregnant or parenting teens, women, adoptive families and children. Tomasi was the organization’s executive director for five years and a member of the Lund Board of Trustees for six years.
Tomasi’s dedication to children led Lund to recognize her with a Heart of the Community Award, scheduled to be presented March 28. Her fellow honorees are Ann Bielawski of Shelburne, a volunteer at Lund for 15 years, and James Pizzagalli of Shelburne, a former member of Lund’s Board of Trustees and program supporter.
“I consider it a very nice honor when someone thinks your work is important and it’s also a very important validation,” Tomasi said. “I appreciate that they thought of me and it makes me feel good.”
Barbara Rachelson, Lund executive director, said Tomasi’s efforts helped Lund achieve its current success.
“She transformed Lund from a place for women to come and hide to wait out their nine months into a place to receive educational skills and the proper counseling to be successful,” Rachelson said. “Theresa came when Lund was experiencing some hard times and helped Lund in lots of ways. She was there just at the right time, in the right way, she’s an angel.”
Amy Cronin, Lund special events and sponsorship coordinator, said all award recipients deserve the honor.
“We looked to celebrate individuals with innovative and enduring contributions to Lund and the community as a whole, and they all meet that criteria,” Cronin said.
Tomasi began working with Lund in the early 1960s, during her summer break from McGill University in Montreal, where she was working toward a Master’s degree in social work.
“Lund was such a caring, loving facility that did a lot of good work,” Tomasi said.
That experience sparked a personal interest in adopting. Tomasi adopted her first child, Tracy, the summer after she graduated in 1962.
“It was through the grace of God that one of my classmates at McGill worked for an adoption agency,” Tomasi said. “At the time, it was very difficult to adopt as a single parent, so having that connection was helpful.”
Despite her classmate’s help, the adoption process wasn’t easy.
“At the time, in Canada, children had to be placed with parents of the same religion,” Tomasi said.
As a Catholic, the odds were in her favor.
“I was very lucky to be Catholic, as the number of Catholic children was much higher,” Tomasi said. “This was a problem in some cases, because once children were beyond the infant stage, it made placing them much more difficult.”
After Tomasi’s first adoption, she was hooked.
“I got addicted,” she said. “I didn’t intend to, but it just made me so happy to get my first and after that I figured I have room for one more, and it just kept going from there.”
The rest of Tomasi’s 27 adoptions were arranged through Lund.
“Lund impacts so many lives through adoption and I know personally what it has meant to be able to adopt and give these children the permanency of having a home,” Tomasi said. “Once you see the need out there, you just can’t help but to want to provide for these kids.”
Tessa, 19, adopted at 8 months, and Tova, 21, adopted at age 8, both said Tomasi is always finding ways to improve children’s lives.
“She never stops giving,” Tessa said. “She is actually sponsoring a school for the blind in West Africa, she sends them sends textbooks, Braille papers and other school supplies.”
Family get-togethers, though busy, have always been very special for Tova.
“Some of the best memories are during holidays like Christmas or Easter and having everyone together, some of the best times,” Tova said.
For Tessa, having Tomasi as her mom has meant making new friends.
“It’s always been a fun experience living here and meeting kids from other countries,” Tessa said. “She makes everyone so comfortable and makes it easier to connect with everyone.”
All the siblings have given Tomasi a special nickname.
“She’s Mother Teresa, she’s very patient,” Tessa said. “Today one of our brothers had a soccer game and it’s freezing, but she stuck it out.”
Tessa is certain that being a part of a large family is the way to go.
“It’s the best thing,” Tessa said. “We never fight, we always have support and someone always has your back.”
Tomasi also points to her large family as the key to being able to do what she does.
“Sometimes, I feel like the most disorganized person in the world, but because the children are all really helpful, it makes it all work,” Tomasi said. “It’s just a family affair, as they say.”