DOVER — When the Dover Exchange Club Children’s Foundation played host recently to several foster families and staff from The Village Network’s Uhrichsville office at a Christmas party, it seemed like one, big family affair.
And, for many, that is what the event has become: A family event.
“Every year, the Dover Exchange Club does this Christmas party for foster parents, their families, the foster children and staff at the Uhrichsville office,” said Nancy Gress, a licensing specialist with The Village Network. “We show up. They do everything for us. They have a dinner for us, and Santa Claus comes. We socialize, and the families get to come together.”
“We’re like a family,” said Mary Stevenson, a foster parent of two siblings. She worked with The Village Network on fostering a girl several years ago. She and her husband, Danny Stevenson, later adopted her as their daughter. She is now 20. They currently have two little girls, ages 2 and 4, who are sisters. The Village Network worked with the couple on fostering the siblings.
What Gress and Mary Stevenson appreciate about the Dover Exchange Club’s annual Christmas event is how the biological children are invited to participate. This further adds to the family atmosphere.
Often, foster parents have to spend extra time with their foster children to take them to appointments, meetings and other activities related to the foster care system. However, with this event, the whole family gets to join in.
“We always do stuff for our foster kids, but this is a time for all of us to celebrate,” Mary Stevenson said. “Our biological and foster kids get presents. It’s a really nice time for the families to relax and enjoy each other..
“It’s such a blessing. I think it’s awesome that (the Dover Exchange Club) even considers foster children and foster families. They honor us every year.”
“They spoil us,” Gress said. The foster care department even gets a gift card to purchase something that can be used to help the foster families.
The Children’s Foundation has been honored for its work with children in the community. They begin preparing for the Christmas party in October, when they ask for a wish list from the foster parents. The club does its best to personalize the gifts the children by getting what them what they want.
The highlight of the evening is when Santa visits the children, and it can be emotional, too. Each child gets a gift from Santa and is allowed to unwrap it at the party.
“When Santa calls out their names, they get excited … he knows their names,” said Kevin Korns, chairman of the Dover Exchange Club Children’s Foundation. “Sometimes these kids (in foster care) get moved around so much, they don’t know if Santa will find them.
“Our club members love doing this event. They do the shopping for the kids, and they come to the dinner.”
“We have so much fun,” Mary Stevenson said. “The children look forward to it. They wake us up in the morning and beg us to go.”
The family atmosphere at the party is not by accident. The Village Network’s foster care staff provide support to each family throughout the year. There are biweekly meetings with staff, the foster parents.
“We support each other through the good and the bad,” Mary Stevenson said. “We laugh together, and we cry together. It’s just a great team.”
Anyone who would like to learn more about becoming a foster parent can call Gress at 740-922-2144.