Warren High School students reach out to foster parents

Photo submitted by Teri Wright, Washington County Children Services Warren High School HPAC club members play games with area foster children during a Thanksgiving event held at Warren Middle School. A Valentine’s Day break for foster parents is planned for Saturday.

MARIETTA — Warren High School students are making a difference in the lives of area foster children with a chance for their foster parents to take some needed time for themselves.

The Health Professionals Affinity Community (HPAC) program was started in October and has grown from eight to 23 members. Warren’s program is the newest of seven in the area, which includes Marietta high and middle schools, Fort Frye, Frontier and Monroe Central high schools and Marietta College.

Warren’s HPAC project will host three activities a year, around Valentine’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving, designed to allow foster parents to drop off the children for a few hours.

“These students have really burst through the door and taken this task on,” said Mary Ella Bauer, tri-county coordinator of HPAC in Washington, Noble and Monroe counties.

The HPAC program is one of the largest health professions pipeline programs for youth in the country. It empowers youth to identify health concerns and invent community health programs to address them. Through this work, youth become community champions for health as they advance into health profession’s educational pathways. The program serves about 2,000 youth in Ohio and they, in turn, serve more than 10,000 Ohioans.

“The kids brainstormed ideas and decided that they wanted to deal with was drug addiction and abuse,” said Lynn Laing, a health teacher at Warren and the group adviser. “Looking into it, they narrowed it down to the foster care program. A lot of kids are in the system because of these issues.”

Washington County Children Services has 22 certified foster parents and 77 children are placed in the custody of the agency, according to Teri Wright, with Children Services.

“A lot of foster children are having to be taken other places because there are not enough local families and they are seeing too much burnout,” said Bauer.

Trying to cope with that burnout and stress is where HPAC comes in with Saturday’s event that will hopefully help relieve some of the burden.

“I am looking forward to it,” said Warren HPAC member Kassidy Johnson, 16, who wants to someday be a pediatrician or pediatric surgeon. “It gives us an opportunity to be around the kids and to help them to know they are not alone.”

Johnson said she has a little experience with the foster system because her aunt is a foster parent.

“I know that it can be stressful,” she said.

Carol Hare, 57, of Belpre, has adopted two children that she once fostered, a 20-year-old and a soon-to-be 6-year old.

She took advantage of the event in November and plans to take her young son on Saturday. The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Children Services, 204 Davis Ave., and is open to all county foster families. There is no registration necessary.

“It is great. It gave me a couple hours that I don’t often get and my son really had a lot of fun,” she said. “I think it’s good for these kids to see others that are in similar situations and for the students also to see other perspectives.”

The Thanksgiving event was held for around 20 foster children who participated in a feast and activities, coordinated by the HPAC group. Parents were able to have some down time to Christmas shop or just go out to dinner.

“They did a fantastic job,” said Laing. “They were responsible for everything from start to finish.”

Most of the food was donated from the community, which Laing said is a big help.

“We appreciate the help from the community and the things HPAC is doing for the school will hopefully branch out into the community as a whole,” she said.

Though HPAC is grant-funded through Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), Laing said her group hasn’t touched the grant money yet, thanks to fundraising efforts.

“The (foster) children really enjoyed the special attention and interaction with their new friends,” said Wright. “They were so engaged that one child cried because she didn’t want the fun time to end.”

“I think these are great events for the kids because they get to know other people, make older friends and just have role models that they may not otherwise have,” said senior Brayton Pannell.

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