Cairo’s passion is helping others

Courtesy photo / Lisa Cairo is one of three female veterans in the Fort Bedford Honor Guard, an all-volunteer group with representatives of all branches of the United States military. Cairo joined the group in 2017.

BEDFORD — Lisa Cairo was just 9 years old when her parents split in 1976, back when children could testify in court which parent they wanted to live with.

She can still recall the memory of her 11-year-old brother, Mark, standing before their parents in the courtroom, torn between having to choose their mother or father.

Ultimately, Mark chose to live with their father, while Cairo and her younger brother, Brian, went to live with their mother.

The impact that her parents’ divorce had on her during childhood motivated Cairo to pursue an education and a career in social work.

“I believe my main role and my staff’s main role is to zero in on the strengths of families and empower those families,” Cairo said, “because I believe that every family can do whatever they put their minds to.”

“My passion has always been to help others, and so that’s where I felt having this job is going to have the most impact within our community,” she said. “I believe, just like in almost every profession, if you’ve had experience in the realm, that it makes you more compassionate in it. You know where some of the families are coming from.”

Starting in 2002, Cairo began working for the Bedford County Children and Youth Services in various capacities: a caseworker for two years, a supervisor for eight years and her current role as administrator, for six years.

Bonnie Bisbing, Bedford County Children and Youth Services casework manager, has worked with Cairo from the beginning.

“She has always been a very strong advocate for children and families,” Bisbing said of Cairo. “She has made many good changes to what we’re doing.”

Bedford County Commissioner Barry Dallara said of Cairo: “She has successfully lobbied the county commissioners to increase staff wages in the children and youth department to be competitive with our surrounding counties; that has helped the county fill several vacancies.”

Increased technology

In addition to raising salaries, Cairo has increased the department’s technology availability and started an independent living house to assist youth 18 to 21 years old who are transitioning out of the welfare system, according to Bisbing.

Jeannee Mallow, former executive director of Your Safe Haven, had worked closely with Bedford County Children and Youth Services and had a chance to work with Cairo prior to her retirement.

“When Lisa Cairo came on board, that’s when I noticed somebody whose passion was going to keep children safe,” Mallow said. “She really moved things to try and improve ways to protect kids and hold people accountable if they didn’t. And that impressed me so much. I just watched her blossom in that position.”

“You can tell she’s very dedicated to that position,” Mallow said. “She saw all the things that should be done that weren’t being done, and … nobody was making changes because it required backbone and grit to do it. She’s demonstrated those.”

Mallow nominated Cairo for the 2016 ATHENA Leadership Award, which Cairo won, describing her as a “good role model for women.” The award recognizes individuals for their professional excellence and community service work.

“I was just so thankful that I got to know her before I retired,” Mallow added.

Cairo is also a steering committee board member for the Liberty Heroes Fund, a fundraising program for wounded veterans and law enforcement staff, founded by Commissioner Dallara in 2015.

“Outside of the (administrator) position, she is also very active in her community,” Dallara said. “She’s a veteran who serves on a local honor guard and supports many initiatives that assist veterans.”

Cairo also is one of three female members of the American Legion’s Fort Bedford Honor Guard.

Serving her country

After graduating from Bedford High School in 1984, Cairo enlisted in the Air Force in 1986 as a law enforcement officer and remained on active duty until 1995. From 1995 to 2002, she served as an active duty guard for the Air National Guard base in Boise, Idaho.

While simultaneously working for the Air National Guard, Cairo attended school and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2002 from Frostburg State University.

She earned a master’s degree in social work from California University of Pennsylvania in May 2012, and became a licensed social worker in August of the same year.

When she entered the military at age 19, Cairo said her passion was law enforcement. But after more than 15 years, Cairo decided to retire from the military with her husband, Thomas, to have more of a settled family life. Cairo has what she described as a “blended family structure” — four stepchildren and a 22-year-old daughter who is serving in the army.

“I believe that every family, if they have a willingness to want to change … you can change any situation you are in,” Cairo said. “With the right resources and the right support, they can change things in their own homes, in their family environments.”

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.