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Cathy Franko always envied people who knew exactly what they wanted to be in life.

But she is clear that the places she’s been have led to her calling.

“Every job I had seemed to have connected itself to putting me in this place now,” said Franko, the executive director of HANDS of Wyoming County.

Franko was recently named Tunkhannock Business and Professional Women’s ‘Woman of the Year’ for her work with the organization, which offers pre-school, family resources and a variety of other services.

The 2019 Woman of the Year is no stranger to the hard work that warrants an award of this merit.

“I grew up in a house where we always had to work,” Franko said. “I’ve worked since I was 11 years old babysitting and I really never stopped working with the exception of when I had my children.”

While attending Lackawanna College for business, she had a work study position in one of the college’s tutoring and counseling programs. Upon graduation, Lackawanna hired her in a grant-funded position and later promoted her to tutoring coordinator.

While working for the college, she studied to earn a second degree in education.

When Franko took a leave of absence following the birth of her twins, Colin and Gracie, who are now 21, a faculty member in the college asked her to help out with his private practice.

“I told him I will only help until he could find somebody more reliable to take over because I was taking care of two infant twins at the time, but I ended up working for him for about eight years,” she said.

There, she did work through the court system and the Kids First program in addition to observing the faculty member, who was a licensed psychologist with much experience in family counseling.

From there, Franko joined the Tunkhannock Area School District as a reading assistant, where she remained for another eight years or so.

When HANDS advertised for a transition coordinator, Franko figured her experiences made her a good fit.

“I had a lot of connections with the people I’ve worked with there and I thought I would be the perfect candidate to help bridge that gap between Pre-K and kindergarten,” she said.

About one year into this position, the executive director of HANDS relocated, leaving the position vacant.

Franko was asked to fill in on an interim basis, but after six months, she didn’t want to let it go.

“I was fortunate to be selected as the candidate of director,” she said.

Being executive director allows Franko to marry her expertise in business and education, as the job requires facets of both.

“What I like about being the director of HANDS is the ability to imagine something and seeing it through and it actually happening. This year was a prime example,” she said, referring to the program’s move to Mehoopany, which came with expanded services and fresh opportunities.

With HANDS, each day is different for Franko, and she believes it’s important to have a certain temperament for such a child-oriented job.

“No day will be perfect and no day will be what you planned it to be, but you have to have the temperament and the flexibility to adapt to changes and carry on with your day,” she said.

Being a mother of grown children, Franko acknowledged how this time where children are so young is both precious and fleeting, as well as a critical part of their growth and development.

“This is their foundation to their education, and we have a responsibility to make sure they have the strongest, best foundation as possible to be successful in life,” she said.

Witnessing the dramatic growth in children from the beginning of the school year to the spring is amazing for Franko, who said the change is not just in size, but in language development, social skills and more.

“There’s not a more dramatic change in any age group,” she said.

Being named Woman of the Year was surprising news for Franko, who also felt proud when she looked back and saw past winners such as drug treatment advocate Barbara Landon and Dietrich Theater Executive Director Erica Rogler.

“I just admire them because they’re strong, independent women, and just to have myself included in that same category is quite humbling,” she said.

It’s meaningful to Franko to encourage women to be strong and independent too.

“It’s important for us to show women the potential in the organization, that there is no glass ceiling, that we can do it and we have done it,” she said. “Just look at the people before me who have received this award and everything that they’ve done, how we’re paving the way for the future so women can strive to be directors, doctors, lawyers, executives. There’s no limit.”

On June 15, TBPW will hold an honorary brunch for Franko. To RSVP, which is required, contact Landon at 570-240-1955 or Cindy Adams at 570-836-5907.