Special party brings Christmas joy to cast-aside kids

Discover how hundreds of youngsters, many of them separated from their families through no fault of their own, are given a day of Holiday delight …

Rochelle Bennett and Paru Patel are standing by to welcome guests to the DHS Child Welfare East Multnomah County Branch Christmas Party.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

When a story appears in the press regarding the Oregon Division of Human Services (DHS), it usually isn’t good news.

Still, every day, hundreds of DHS workers at the Child Welfare East Multnomah County Branch, located in outer East Portland on SE 122nd Avenue, do their best to help the children who come into their custody, due to abuse or neglect issues that create unsafe situations for them at home.

Pizza Baron owner Bill Dayton and his restaurant manager and son Jeff Dayton, are greeted by DHS Child Welfare East Multnomah County Branch Reunification and Engagement Specialist David Cosloy, as they bring in boxes of hot, bubbly pizza pie.

“When these children come into our care, the intention is for it to very temporary, while we work to help resolve the issues that created the unsafe scenario for them,” explained DHS Child Welfare East Multnomah County Branch Reunification and Engagement Specialist David Cosloy on December 10, the day of the annual DHS Christmas Party.

“Our Christmas party is a form of outreach, and also a way of ‘giving back’, to many of the people we serve here in our community,” Cosloy told East Portland News. “We want clients, all across the mid-County area, to know that we’re here to provide assistance to our most vulnerable residents.”

Ready to give gifts to the visiting children are DHS East Branch volunteer employees Davina Sims, Karen Croston, Trish Soler, and Marsha Pittman.

This, their annual Christmas Party, is a time for children and families who are separated to have an opportunity to come celebrate the Holidays together, Cosloy said. “They get to eat some pizza and snacks, choose a gift, and participate in games and other activities that are set up.

“In general, it’s an opportunity for them to have a more normal Christmas at a time when they’re probably separated over the Holidays,” explained Cosloy.

A visit with Santa Claus and his merry helpers is a highlight that is long remembered by many of the children.

Many of the children who are brought by their foster parents or caregivers are reunited briefly with their natural parents, as they would be at a visitation session. “And, some of our guests are families that are reunified – or families who bring their child adopted who are from our system,” said Cosloy.

“One of the beautiful things about the people who work here is the term ‘family’ is very loosely defined for us. If there is an adult’s commitment, with love and compassion – that makes them a family for us.”

Some people are amazed to learn that not one taxpayer dollar is spent to produce this lavish children’s Holiday party. “It is the result of untold volunteer hours, given by our 150 staff members throughout the year, by holding auctions, raffles, soup sales – and, in our unit, we had a bake sale.”

Michelle Berry and Jane Bahr are ready to serve up slices of Pizza Baron pizza.

And, once they learn about the party, many area businesses contribute to it.

“When you see the joy in a child’s eyes here at the party, it’s so easy to help out, year after year,” said Pizza Baron owner Bill Dayton. “During each of our three deliveries, the smell of fresh hot pizza attracts guests to follow us into the dining room.”

“Embrace Oregon”, a faith-based volunteer organization focused on helping to “connect caring people with vulnerable children through partnership DHS Child Welfare”, again provided numerous volunteers who helped prepare for, and serves, during the Christmas party. “‘Embrace Oregon’ continues to do so much to help us,” commended Cosloy.

[Just before the faith groups created the “Embrace Oregon” organization in 2012, see how some of these participating church’s volunteers had given the DHS East Branch offices an “extreme makeover”: CLICK HERE to read our story.]

Maria Garcia and Samantha say they’re having fun in a craft room, decorating Holiday cookies.

Even though some of the DHS staff members and volunteers had been up most of the night decorating the massive office complex, turning plain-looking rooms into an indoor party complex, smiles were on all of their faces.

“It’s all worth it when they see the kids come through. Their faces are lit up with joy, and they’re excited to visit with Santa,” observed Cosloy. “Sometimes they get to see their siblings with whom they don’t currently live. It’s especially rewarding for our staff members, who know the ‘back story’ of these children.”

2014 Donor’s Honor Roll

In addition to the staff who contributed through fundraising, buying goods and party planning and participation, the volunteers thank:

Academy Theater ~ Ace Hardware
Bella Cupcakes ~ (The) Busy Bees
Caricature artists Sam Arneson & Matt Schlosky
Dave’s Killer Bread ~ Doernbechers Children’s Hospital
Double Tree Hotel ~ Embrace Oregon
Finnegan’s ~ Flying Pie Pizzeria
Goldie’s BBQ ~ Higgins Restaurant and Bar
Hollywood Theatre ~ Chuck & Linda Lemme
McMenamins Pubs and Breweries
Mt. Hood Lanes ~ Nicole’s Face Painting
NW Priority Credit Union ~ Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Peter Corvallis Productions ~ Pizza Baron
Plumbers and Steamfitters’ local 290
Portland Japanese Gardens ~ Portland Nursery
Portland Winterhawks ~ Tom and Barb Slyter
Trailblazer Foods ~ Trufflehunger

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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