‘Substitute care kids’ get a magical Christmas party

Again this year, State DHS workers throw a wonderful celebration for children in their care. Read this, and find out why …

Ready to check in kids and caregivers to the annual Christmas-themed party are DHS Payment Coordinator Kanika Callier and Administrative Assistant Paru Patel.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When a child’s safety is at risk, usually because of abuse or neglect situations, the State of Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) is charged with the daunting responsibility of keeping them safe.

“The Holidays are a very difficult time for the children with whom we work,” said DHS Child Welfare East Branch Social Services Specialist David Cosloy. “This is especially true for those in ‘substitute care’ – separated from their families of origin at this time of year, through no fault of their own.”

In addition to the stress of occasionally seeing their families during DHS-supervised visits, “they oftentimes have to change schools and change neighborhoods. So everything connected to their lives changes,” Cosloy told East Portland News. “So, as we have for many years, we’re hosting these children to a real Holiday event.”

In the Throne Room, Santa’s Helpers Andrea Todd and Kathie Nicholas flank Santa (DHS volunteer David Udlock), while Social Services Specialist David Cosloy gets ready to confide his own Christmas wishes.

Serving as guide through the expansive DHS East Branch offices in the Powellhurst Gilbert neighborhood, Cosloy pointed out how the maze of visitation rooms and conference areas had been transformed into a Holiday Wonderland for the party, this year held on December 11.

“As many as 200 children will come through today, accompanied by either birth or foster parents,” Cosloy explained. “And Staff members have volunteered to provide the personnel for each the entertainment stations. Many of us have done this for years, which helps it all go pretty smoothly.”

In a craft room, kids make and decorate festive Holiday hats and crowns.

Jessica, who is also celebrating her fourth birthday, “caught” a plush prize, with a little help from DHS volunteer Cari King.

Between kids, the party’s perennial Santa Claus, David Udlock, said he welcomed the change this day brings him from his profession of working with children and families who’ve come to the attention of their system – for reasons of some type of abuse.

“For me, the best part is seeing the joy on the kids faces when they are able to be together, in this safe and magical place,” Udlock smiled.

Guest Mollie Kuffner gets a colorful face painting from Nicole, of Nicole’s Face Painting.

“As you can see, this party involves many play and craft activities in various rooms,” Cosloy pointed out. “Kids get a photo taken with Santa, and have a complete lunch. Then, before they leave, they’ll get to choose a brand new toy to take home.

One of the amazing parts about the event, Cosloy noted, is that it’s completely funded by the staff members and donors.

Helping out in the Toy Room are DHS Volunteers Kristen Lorenz and Hannah Lene.

“The State of Oregon pays nothing toward the party. This is a project that comes from the heart of the staff members from within the branch. We raise money throughout the year by way of silent auctions, bake sales, and various other fund-raising activities.”

Additionally, thirty companies, organizations, and service providers contribute to the success of the party by donating money, goods or services. (See this year’s “Honor Roll” below.)

Ready to serve are Vickie Ryun, Charlene Chut, and Jane Bahr – after fresh hot bubbling pies are delivered by Pizza Baron’s Bill Dayton and Jeff Dayton.

A highlight of the visit is the “Kids Cafeteria” – a buffet with all kinds of food kids love, from snow cones, to fruit snacks, chips, cookies, and fresh hot Pizza Baron pizza.

“We feel so good, contributing to the effort,” said Pizza Baron owner Bill Dayton, as he and his manager and son, Jeff Dayton, brought in their first load of pizzas for the afternoon.

“When you see result of all of the volunteer work that the East Branch staff does, it shows that the Spirit of Christmas is alive in their hearts,” Dayton observed. “It’s great to see the smiles on kids’ faces as they play, win toys – and enjoy a slice of a Pizza Baron pie!”

The 2013 DHS Holiday Party
Honor Roll

Academy Theater ~ Powell Villa Ace Hardware
American Society of Safety Engineers ~ Bob’s Red Mill
The Busy Bees ~ Caricature artists Sam Arneson and Matt Schlosky
Cartridge World ~ Craft Warehouse
Dave’s Killer Bread ~ Doernbechers Children’s Hospital
Double Tree Hotel ~ Electric Castle’s Wonderland
Embrace Oregon ~ Finnegan’s
Hollywood Theater ~ Mamababy Boutique
McMenamin’s  ~ Nicole’s Face Painting
NW Priority Credit Union ~ Oaks Amusement Park
OMSI ~ Peter Corvallis Productions
Pizza Baron ~ Plumbers and Steamfitters, local 290
Portland Aquarium ~ Portland Trailblazers
Portland Winterhawks ~ Powell’s Books
Salt and Straw Ice Cream ~ Tidal Wave bookstore
And the staff of the DHS East Multnomah branch

Drawing caricatures of guests is artist Matt Schlosky.

It was easy to see that, at least for a couple of hours, these children forgot their unfortunate circumstances, and turned into playful kids once again.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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