VAN WERT, Ohio – 2020 has not been an ordinary year. This meant that businesses and non-profit organizations alike have had to get creative in how they provide services and products. This is true for The Marsh Foundation Foster Care and Adoption Center in Van Wert. “We have really had to rethink how we reach out to our agency’s foster families and the kids in their care. Our goal has always been to provide a lot of support in the home, but with the pandemic, we weren’t able to be in the homes,” said Melissa Snyder, foster care director. “We have had to provide support through virtual services and use this as a way to continue to stay involved.”
The foster care program has always had an annual Christmas party for foster families and all the children in their home, whether foster or biological. “In the past, we have always had a big Christmas party with food, games and gifts for the kids. These parties had a lot of face-to-face interaction and we realized early on, this was not going to work this year,” Snyder said. “The foster care staff came together to figure out a way to still celebrate while keeping everyone healthy and support local holiday activities,” she said. “We came up with this idea to come together with the 4-H Exchange Club Holiday light Show to provide a holiday experience for our foster families.” The 4-H Exchange Club has been providing a holiday light show at the Van Wert Fairgrounds for the past 13 years.
“In 2007, we started with 13 displays and 500 vehicles driving through,” said Jay Gamble, Exchange Club advisor. “This year’s show has 110 plus displays and we are expecting over 3500 vehicles to come enjoy the lights,” he said. According to Gamble, all the exhibits have holiday themes and are supplied by local businesses, individuals, churches and clubs. The 4-H Exchange group is made up of youth, ages 13-18 from all areas of the county. “The light show is a way for the group to raise funds to support the cost to host other youth or travel to other states during the summer months. This allows the youth to build friendships and experience other areas,” Gamble added. The club and The Marsh were excited to come together to provide this holiday experience, which is socially distant, safe and family friendly.
“We felt it was very important to align with local businesses and partner with an organization that shares our vision to support youth,” said Beth Dye, Marsh foster care clinician. “It always impacts me to see that most of our kids in foster care have no support system in the community and counties where they come from. I was born and raised in Van Wert County, so there was no shortage of caring adults involved in my life; like coaches, teachers, extended family, neighbors, church leaders and even 4-H advisors. Most of our foster kids have no one that is taking an interest in them or checking in on them. This is mostly because they move around a lot, aren’t regularly in school, or aren’t involved in the community,” she said. Caring adults are important because they can fill in the gaps and come alongside children when they are having problems at home. The Marsh believes that all children have the right to love, protection and to be cared for by a committed family. This is something that some biological families are just not able to provide.
The Marsh Foundation recruits and trains foster parents to provide homes to youth from counties all over Ohio. The foster care staff then work hard to ensure that the foster parents have the support needed to make these placements successful for the youth.
The 4-H Exchange Club and The Marsh Foster Care Program selected December 11 as the date for the foster families to visit the light show. The show is open every Thursday – Sunday, 6 – 9:30 p.m. and the entire week of Christmas. The cost is $5 per carload. The Marsh Foundation and 4-H both care and support kids and families and want to serve as a model to everyone that they can help youth by guiding lights of love and support. Snyder said, “It’s all about unity, not just between the 4-H Exchange Club and The Marsh Foundation, but between all agencies. The more we come together, the more children we can reach and serve.”
The Marsh Foundation is a not-for-profit children’s services agency that provides services in a variety of settings. Services include group homes, family foster care (ages 0-17), an intensive treatment program, adoption and independent living services. Located in Van Wert, Ohio, the organization’s group homes are licensed for up to 30 children ages 7 – 17, offers an on-campus school for grades 2 – 12 and provides a variety of clinical services to group home residents, foster care children and community members.