BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When children are placed in a foster home, they often arrive with little more than a few clothes or a stuffed animal.
Thanks to Anthony Wayne Interact Club’s Project Smile initiative, 100 children will get to snuggle up at night to a soft fleece blanket with a message of love.
“Creating blankets gives kids traveling from home to home something they can keep and cherish forever, no matter where they are,” said club co-chair Deb Cheney.
Interact, the youth organization of Waterville Rotary Club, has over 200 members who focus their efforts on “Service Above Self,” she said.
As students were looking for ways to help children, Cheney called Lucas County Children Services (LCCS) public information specialist Kevin Milliken to ask about donated blankets.
“Her call was divine serendipity – we had just run out,” Milliken said.
The Interact Club raised funds by cleaning up Whitehouse Park after Cherry Fest and through donations by Waterville Rotary members. With $1,000, Cheney bought 100 kits from the Columbus-based nonprofit organization My Very Own Blanket. Along with the fabric and instructions came labels, so students could send a message of love to each child.
Last month, the teens gathered to cut and tie blankets featuring dogs, dragons, dinosaurs, baseballs and sushi.
“This is relaxing,” said Owen Hildebrand, as he snipped at the edges of a flannel square and tied knots. Joining Owen were his siblings Kate and Colleen, Marina Humphrey, Danielle Barsanti, Andrew Lum, Cayden Smith, Jake Zajkowski and brothers Zach and Klayton Knapp.
Cheney shared with students that 82 children in the Anthony Wayne area are in foster homes – and even more receive services from the county. One mom told Cheney that her son still has the blanket given to him when he moved in with her family years ago.
“Sometimes a child may not know where they will rest their head at night. Having a blanket or stuffed animal can be comforting. Some of these children have experienced trauma,” Milliken said
In 2019, 2,479 children in Lucas County were abused or neglected – a 34-percent increase from 2017, Milliken said. He said the ongoing opioid crisis and an uptick in domestic violence are boosting those numbers.
The goal is to keep children with their families whenever possible, by having case managers work with parents on a care plan. Others are placed with family members or friends. When those options aren’t available, foster families are needed to care for children while parents work through issues.
“We always have a need. I wish we had 400 foster homes on standby,” Milliken said.
For the caseworkers who visit homes regularly, having a blanket or other item in hand can be helpful when arriving to meet with families. Caseworkers give him updates on what’s needed, including new twin sheets, comforters, pillows and blankets.
“The 100 blankets the kids are doing is amazing. They will go quickly,” he said.
While students don’t have direct contact with the children, their efforts go a long way, he said. LCCS often taps into service organizations at area high schools to help with projects, such as collecting personal care items or backpacks filled with school supplies. Others help out at events such as Trunk-or-Treat or work in the free toy store.
“Our mission is to lead the community in the protection of children and in strengthening families,” Milliken said.
To find out more about donating, call (419) 213-3200 and ask for Milliken. For information on adoption or fostering, call (419) 213-3336. To report child abuse, call (419) 213-CARE (2273).