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Melinda Stutler does not consider herself an artist, but she couldn’t resist the urge to let her inner artist out when she walked into a room at The Village Network’s Uhrichsville office used for meetings and programming that involved foster children. The room was kind of drab, and she wanted something better for the kids.

“When I walked in, I thought this is not colorful,” Stutler said. “I wanted the kids to see something bright and colorful, to make them feel better.”

Wanting to see things better for children in need has been a hallmark of Stutler’s life. For nearly nine years she has partnered with The Village Network to serve as a foster parent. She received a flier in the mail from the The Village Network, made a call, then visited the office. “I have been there ever since,” she said.

An undersea mural by Melinda in the kid’s art room.The New Philadelphia resident has three biological children who are adults. One of them still lives in the home. Despite having her own children, Stutler said she always wanted to be a foster parent.

“It’s challenging,” she said. “You either got it in you or not. You might bring home drug-addicted babies, and you might bring them home as newborns.”

Because the ultimate goal in foster care is family reunification, foster parents have to be prepared to say “goodbye” to children they have come to love and care for. “That can be very hard,” Stutler said.

The first time The Village Network placed children in her home, the Stutler family took in three siblings who were one, two and three years old. “It was all at once,” she said. “I didn’t know if I had it in me.”

But she did, and now she’s able to share her artistic gift. Stutler said she is grateful for how everyone at The Village Network has allowed her to “take over the walls” of the office. “I always loved to paint. I would putter around and paint, but nothing serious.”

After staring at those walls, she thought she could paint something, so she dove into the project. As for her style, “It just comes natural,” Stutler said.

There is an ocean scene in one room, and there are silhouettes down a hallway. Images adorning the wall include a football player; a child holding a computer; another kid holding a ruler; and there is even a gymnast. The message of those silhouettes? Never give up.

The mom turned foster mom turned artist is now working on other walls. A brick wall reminds her of an old building. “It needed color,” she said. “They do a lot of therapy in there with the older ones, and I wanted to brighten it up.”

One day when Stutler visited the office, she started engaging the kids and enlisted their help in painting flowers on the walls. Now, giant, beautiful flowers grace the walls. “They loved it,” Stutler said.

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Helping Youth Find Their Way: Long-time foster mom helps youth get on the right pathFoster Youth
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