Foster kids find holiday fun during special DHS visit

See how Oregon Department of Human Service workers help foster children got a slice of normalcy in their topsy-turvy lives at this special event. You may be surprised what this party for 500 actually cost taxpayers …

Wendy Sumner and Mary Egankirk are shown checking families at the special Holiday Party at the DHS Family Services office on SE 122nd Ave. at Powell Blvd.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Christmastime can be pretty grim for children who have been removed from their homes for their own protection from abusive and neglectful parents.

Many of these young people tense up when they approach the DHS Family Services office on SE 122nd Avenue, in the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood – not knowing how their parents will behave, during the supervised visitation sessions held in cubicle-sized rooms at the facility.

“Elmo” hugs a foster child coming in to the DHS Holiday Party.

But, once a year – this time, on December 15 – foster kids from all over outer East Portland, and the Rockwood area as well, enter the doors of the building with a sense of gleeful anticipation for their Annual Holiday Party.

Our guide at the event, and one of the organizers, was Stacey Mahler – a caseworker at DHS Child Welfare, East Multnomah and Rockwood Branch. She said they were expecting about 200 kids and up to 400 parents at this year’s party.

“These children are in our care because of  abuse or neglect,” Mahler explained. “While the parent may love them, the child isn’t safe in their home. Some of the kids are severely neglected, or are abused – physically hurt. But more often, it’s neglect. When a parent is into their own issues – whether it be drug abuse, or mental health, or criminal involvement – they can’t really see beyond themselves enough to put their kid’s needs first.”

Zane Watson and Dawson Dixon have fun in one of the activity rooms, decorating the cookies they get to take home and enjoy.

Miss Nicole brightens the spirits of the little ones with her colorful face painting.

Maintaining the bond
DHS facilitates the visitations, Mahler said, which help maintain the parent-child bond. “Whether they return home to their parent in the next month, in a year, or never – that bond will still be there. We know there’s a chance that they will reconnect with parents later in life. This is a way to for them to continue that connection, and to do it under our supervision and guidance.”

In addition to the stress of being a foster child, these children can often feel “left out” at Christmastime. “This special event gives them kind of a traditional feeling of fun and joy,” Mahler pointed out. “During this visit, the games, luncheon, activities – and a personal visit with Santa Claus – lets them forget about their situation and have a fun, Holiday experience.”

DHS Child Welfare caseworker Stacey Mahler from the East Multnomah and Rockwood Branch, and Bill Dayton from Pizza Baron, invite children to enjoy slices of fresh and toothsome pizza at the party.

Total cost to taxpayers: $0.00
As we peeked into the rooms featuring all kinds of kids’ games and activities, we had to step aside as a guard helped Bill Dayton, owner of Pizza Baron – just up the street – brought in stacks of fresh, hot pizzas. “We’ve been part of the community for 30 years,” Dayton said with a smile. “We like to help out.”

Pizza Baron was one of a plethora of donors who help make this special day possible, Mahler said. “Many staff members donate a lot of time to make this possible. And, of course our community members donate time and gifts, discounts, and other kinds of support for this party.”

Elfettes Annie and Kathie help out Santa Claus in the throne room.

Mahler asked if we’d acknowledge those who made the event possible. We are happy to do so:

  • Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local 290; a major cash donation
  • NW Priority Credit Union; a substantial cash donation
  • Wednesday’s Child Foundation, Inc.; a generous cash donation
  • American Society of Safety Engineers, Willamette Chapter; bags of new toys
  • Sam Arneson and Steve Dorris; Caricature artist services
  • Peter Corvallis Productions; Santa’s Throne and room décor
  • Double Tree Hotel; 200 cookies
  • Saint Cupcake; 240 cupcakes
  • Krispy Kreme; 21 dozen donuts
  • Pizza Baron; fresh, hot pizzas
  • Lippman Co. The Party Store; decorations
  • Glendoveer Golf Course; 2 rounds of golf
  • Higgins; a 50.00 gift certificate
  • International Special Events Society; gifts
  • Learning Palace; toys
  • McMenamins’ Pubs and Breweries; 25.00 gift card
  • Music Millenium; music CDs
  • The Oaks Amusement Park; 2 family skate passes
  • Steps to Success; Gift wrappers
  • Financial donations from Linda Lemme Diamond, John Endicott & Mike Anderson, Barbara & Israel Ziony and Susan Ziony
  • All Eastwood staff who contribute through fundraising, buying goods and party planning and participation.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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