Realizing the sacrifices and dedication foster parents make to better children’s lives in our area, the Carroll County Department of Social Services (DSS) is doing its part to make sure those families have a better Christmas.
As has become tradition in recent years, this holiday the Carroll County DSS has helped facilitate a program to provide bikes, Santa “sacks” and toys for foster parents to give to their foster children. The toys and gifts are provided by many businesses and individual sponsors throughout the area.
“Foster parents take these kids into their homes along with their own children and they have to pay for heat, fuel and everything else. And if they are going to do that for us, the least we can do is help them out at Christmas and give back a little bit,” said Mary Hanks, Human Services Assistant for Carroll County DSS. “A lot of people think foster parents do it to just make money but they don’t make enough. Their hearts and souls are in it.”
This year, Carroll County DSS is helping serve 54 kids through the program. Among the sponsors who make the program possible for Carroll DSS are Sheetz, Carroll County J&D Court, Stacy Red, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Carroll County Commissioner Office, Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers, Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Pickett, Barbara Bowers, Pruitt Hall and family, Karen Boyer and family and friends, Carroll County Treasurer’s Office, Town of Hillsville, Carroll County General District Court, Chris Goad – State Farm, Carroll County Administrative Office, Rena Willard, Jenny Carico, Waddell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Holiday Inn – Hillsville, Blue Ridge Health, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, and Fancy Gap Pottery.
“We really couldn’t do this without Mary,” said Becky Ratcliffe, supervisor of child protective services, foster care and adult protective services for Carroll DSS. “She dedicates her heart and soul to make sure these foster kids have sponsors.”
The effort has been a smashing success this year as the hall outside of the Carroll County DSS office was filled with bikes, toys and Santa sacks this past week. Toys are placed in the Santa sacks, Hanks said, so that children can’t tell the bags are full of toys when the foster parents pick them up.
Hanks’ DSS co-workers said Hanks visits foster kids in the Carroll program, works with the foster parents to see what the kids want for Christmas, and then organizes a wish list which she takes to sponsors. The sponsors then take care of making the wish lists possible for area foster kids.
“This cannot happen without the sponsors,” Hanks said. “It has nothing to do with me.”
Carroll County DSS Director Teresa Hodges said that is not entirely true.
“DSS couldn’t do this without Mary, but the kids wouldn’t have this without the sponsors,” Hodges said. “And we have some sponsors that donate that do not want their names in the paper. They just do it because they know the need is there. Everybody knows the holidays are not always the giggles that we expect on Christmas morning. These parents still have to put a roof over these kids’ heads and provide food and make sure their kids have clothes.”
Ratcliffe said some of the foster kids the Carroll DSS works with have behavioral needs and mental health needs. Foster parents are 24-hour parents, she said.
“They are just like any other parent and they are taking on what unfortunately these kids’ parents can’t. They are also our kids because we are considered the guardians of all the children in foster care,” Ratcliffe said. “And they are our kids and that is the reason why Mary also supervises all the visits that come through this office, so she sees these kids every week, knows their names, knows what schools they go to, asks about their teachers. She makes it her mission that they get something from their parents, the guardians, and DSS.”
Hanks noted Sheetz has been a huge sponsor through its own initiative – the Sheetz for Kids Program. The Salvation Army is also involved, and this year they sponsored 16 foster kids in Carroll, 16 more in Galax, and an additional 16 in Wythe County.
“Every year there is a foster kid in care, there is somebody that helps make sure they have a good Christmas. You get local businesses, couples or whoever, that just want to support them,” Hodges said. “They know there are some kids that have to come into foster care and have to have that service, and they don’t want them to miss out on Christmas.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN