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Wilkes-Barre professor’s teaching draws inspiration from his mother’s care for others

DALLAS, Pa. — In many ways, Melody Sussman inspired the core values ​​and teaching philosophy of her daughter, Associate Professor of Rehabilitation and Human Services Melisa Littleton.

“She’s the most caring person I know,” Littleton said of her mother. “When I was young, things were not easy. We struggled financially, but my mother always found a way to make sure others were taken care of. She has always been very kind, generous and caring. Because she modeled this for me, I myself developed this in my beliefs. I wanted to give back and help people as part of my career.

Littleton, who is the Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) program coordinator at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, decided to go into the human services field because of her mother’s influence. Before joining the campus faculty, Littleton, who is a licensed professional counselor, worked for the Children’s Service Center, most recently overseeing a school-based behavioral health program. She arrived at Penn State Wilkes-Barre in 2014 with the start of the RHS program.

“Without my mother’s support and encouragement, I would not be at Penn State Wilkes-Barre,” Littleton said. “She helped me throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies. When I left for college, she supported me in every way possible. She just wanted me to be happy. She was willing to sacrifice everything to make sure we were happy and successful.

Sussman said it was important for her to demonstrate love for her daughter and son.

“Both my children went to university. We didn’t have much money and we are struggling,” she said. “I love my children. It’s the best gift I’ve ever received. I know I gave them love. And if you got love, you made it.

Monthly shopping trips

The couple enjoy a close relationship, even though they live about an hour apart. They chat frequently and meet up for monthly shopping trips, where they purchase items for Penn State Wilkes-Barre students and the campus food pantry.

Their purchases include personal hygiene items such as shampoo, deodorant and toothbrushes, as well as snacks and special treats that Littleton uses to create holiday treat bags.

“We have fun shopping and doing things for the students,” Sussman said. “But more importantly, we try to help them get more value for the money they have in their pockets.” I’m not rich but I know I can do this to help. Melisa loves her students and this is one way for her to show it.

Littleton said: “It might not be a lot, but it’s something. My mother had a great influence in my career as a therapist and in my approach to teaching today. This includes checking in with students and bringing them snacks like fresh fruit and muffins each day. I want to help meet their needs so they can thrive.

Fundraising event for Penn State Wilkes-Barre

After Sussman became an empty nester, she decided to put her interest in antiques to good use by starting her own business. She opened her antiques and collectibles store, Melben’s Murkantile, in Nicholson in 2005. The store is named after her children, Melisa and Benjamin, and sells a mix of new and used items.

As Christmas approached last year, Sussman decided to share her passion for helping students to allow her clients to have the opportunity to help them as well. She announced a day when 10 percent of the store’s profits would be donated to items for Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s food pantry and had a good number of customers come in to shop that day. Previously, she had organized fundraisers for other local organizations, including a veterans organization and a Girl Scout camp.

“This event had a very positive reception and good participation,” she said. “People came to shop because they knew it was the day. They had seen it on Facebook or in the newspaper.

With the day’s profits, Sussman was able to purchase a large quantity of health and beauty items – naturally, during one of her monthly shopping trips with Littleton.

“That’s just how my mother is. It shows that she’s a giver of nature,” Littleton said. “When I was a child and adolescent therapist, she and I would go shopping together to buy items for the kids. She’s been doing this with me for almost 20 years. The lessons I learned from her have shaped how I approach my students and being a kind and caring person to them.

Sussman said: “Doing something like this makes me feel good. It warms your heart. Whenever friends or family helped my children or did something for them, I appreciated it. We are all in there. Melisa is very dedicated to her students and I am very grateful to her.

Influence on the HRH program

Due to Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s small size, Littleton gets to know its students well throughout their time in the RHS program. And the close-knit nature of the campus allows him to build relationships with his students while working with them.

“I see students from 100-level classes — sometimes even before that, when I meet them in the summer — until I shake their hands at graduation,” Littleton said. “I get to see them grow into their young professional status and see what excites them about our field.”

She described her students as “compassionate and passionate,” saying, “They want to make the world a better place, no matter what that looks like to them.” They just want to help people and make things a little better than what they found them.

Her mother’s influence shaped Littleton’s educational philosophy and the way she handles interactions with her students. She strives to make her classroom and office comfortable places where students can learn and grow. Given her work in human services and the courses she offers, Littleton understands disability culture very well and provides additional support to any student who needs additional care to help them get through their day. Her students know they can always stop by her office to chat with her.

“I always think about my mother’s influence in being that kind, caring person and being a safe person for those who maybe don’t have someone in that capacity,” Littleton said. “She would do anything for anyone who needed it. This is how I approach my teaching and building relationships with my students.

“I love him more than anything,” she said. “She is the best mother I could hope for. She has been my biggest supporter, defender, and protector, and she is the reason I do what I do. She sacrificed so that my brother and I had every chance to succeed.