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Flowers of summer

Workers buy outfits for foster kids

It is a time of change at the Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services. Programs are being changed, as are computer programs. And, to relieve the stress, the workers decided to help out foster kids.

“There’s been a lot of changes going on at the state level,” said Rich Blankenship, the assistant director at J&FS. “Employees have been going to numerous trainings and there were just a lot of changes.”

“There was just a lot of stress in the agency. A lot of the time the best way to take the stress off yourself, is to reach out to somebody else and help them solve a problem or help them,” Belinda Brown, an Income Maintenance Worker 3 and the president of AFSCME Local 3319 at the agency which represents everybody at the agency, except the Child Support workers, said.

With morale a bit low because of all the changes, Brown floated the idea to make everyone feel better by helping out others, specifically the children in foster care.

She wanted to get all 61 kids in the Lawrence County foster care system two summer outfits and a swim suit in an effort to make their summer better.

She took the idea to Missy Holmes, a caseworker and the vice president of AFSCME Local 8090.

“We jumped right on it because it was a great project,” Holmes said. “Anytime you can help children who are less fortunate, it is something we would definitely help out with.”

People were asked to take a paper flower that had the clothing sizes and gender of one child and get them outfits.

“We call our kids ‘flowers,’ so that’s why we had flowers put up on the wall,” Brown explained. “We didn’t reveal their names because of privacy. After everything was collected, the CPS workers took the outfits and handed them out to the kids.”

Brown said the response was overwhelming.

“Everyone was involved, not just the people in the two unions. And now 61 children are set for summer. We love these kids and we feel a responsibility, we wanted to do something in this agency to give back to those kids,” Brown said, adding because of state and federal laws they can’t discuss specific cases with the public. “But we know that these kids have suffered greatly. We wanted to do something to make their summertime, their lives, just a little bit brighter.”

Brown said that as good as the foster parents are, it is sometimes a struggle with extra mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. And most of the time, kids going into the foster system don’t bring clothes or anything else with them.

“This is just something extra, our foster parents are wonderful,” Blankenship said. “They provide very well for them. This is something the union brought to us and we thought it would be great to help them out. It was a very successful event and we certainly appreciate the agency’s workers for doing this.”

Brown said they got the outfits to the kids before Memorial Day so they would have something nice to wear to the annual Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade.

“We also got them swimsuits, so they can enjoy playing in the water this summer,” she said.

Brown said they plan to do more projects.

“We have heard from foster parents that there is a great need for school supplies and clothes in the fall,” she said. “We want to work on that next.”