Heart Sutton is the living expression of her first name.
As a long-time volunteer at The Children’s Home in Catonsville, Sutton has been showing up to meet the needs of the home’s young people ages 13-21 who have come to the residential facility after experiencing some form of abuse, abandonment or neglect.
Several days a week, she visits the campus to support daily operations and to connect with youth residents. On any given day, she can be found playing basketball, hosting a girl’s night or teaching life skills such as how to write a resume or how to fix a bike tire, often alongside members of her church community.
This commitment to serve isn’t new to the Baltimore City native. Sutton said she started giving back through school and church activities starting as a little girl.
“As long as I can remember I always just wanted to help,” she said.
Her motivation to support at-risk youth is rooted in a sense of empathy. Sutton said she knows what it’s like to feel abandoned. Like some of the residents at The Children’s Home, she moved around a lot growing up and often felt cast off by her parents and family.
Watch the Built Upon a Dream special highlighting an extreme makeover for The Children's Home will air on ABC2 on Aug. 4 at 7 p.m.
“I felt like I was an afterthought,” she said. “My parents were not very involved with my life at all, and I never understood why. I always felt like I didn’t have an adult presence in my life and I desired it so much.”
She credits her faith with helping her survive adolescence and said school often provided the structure and attention she missed out on at home. As an adult, she signed up to volunteer with youth at the Regional Institute for Children & Adolescents (RICA) in Rockville, a position that took her on a journey toward self-discovery where she realized a connection with forgotten youth.
“I could have been there,” she said. “I didn’t have anyone guiding me either.”
Her goal during each visit is to simply show up, demonstrate love and do whatever she can to provide a steady foundation she said, despite the emotional rigors brought on by the uncertainty of life in the system.
Gail Lee, director of development, said Sutton’s presence is felt.
“Her name speaks for itself,” she said. “Her heart is here. She sees [the residents’] strengths and their weaknesses and she builds upon them in a creative, innovative way. She’s just amazing.”
Sutton said she loves the youth at The Children’s Home and is committed to making sure each resident feels wanted.
“I would take them all home if I could, but I can’t, so I come here and let them know I love them,” she said. “Whether that’s painting a wall, cleaning up art supplies, whether they know I’m here or not, I love them and that’s why I’m here.”