WHS students offer support to area’s foster families

MICHAEL KELLY   The Marietta Times
The Warren High School HPAC: (First row, left to right) Jaiden Washburn, Emilee Neville, Mckinzi Heiss, (second row, kneeling) Autumn Miller,  Tori Wittekind, Brianna Sydenstricker, Kaitlyn Bailey, (standing) McCaylee Southall, Shane Gardner, Lilly Hart, Jenna Walters, Jazzimine Doan, Virginia Sheff, Alexis Cook, Alexis McKnabb, Vanessa Gandera, Braydon McConnell, Regan Wright.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times The Warren High School HPAC: (First row, left to right) Jaiden Washburn, Emilee Neville, Mckinzi Heiss, (second row, kneeling) Autumn Miller, Tori Wittekind, Brianna Sydenstricker, Kaitlyn Bailey, (standing) McCaylee Southall, Shane Gardner, Lilly Hart, Jenna Walters, Jazzimine Doan, Virginia Sheff, Alexis Cook, Alexis McKnabb, Vanessa Gandera, Braydon McConnell, Regan Wright.

Going into its second year, the Warren High School HPAC group — Health Professionals Affinity Community — plans to continue its program to help foster children and foster parents in the area.

Last year, the group of about 25 students collectively decided that they wanted to address the area’s drug abuse and addiction problem by helping foster children, who often find themselves in the system because of family troubles with drugs, and helping foster parents, who sometimes find themselves overwhelmed, said HPAC advisor and Warren High School health teacher Lynn Laing.

“One set of foster parents was working with 11 kids,” she said. “They never had any down time, and parents say that is significant. It helps them to have that break.”

The HPAC students over the past year have held three events: a Thanksgiving dinner, a Valentine’s Day gathering and an Easter egg hunt. On Oct. 27, they will hold a fishing retreat for area foster children, complete with bamboo poles, a bonfire and s’mores, Laing said.

“This event will be a little fishing session. They’ll get to take the poles home, do some face painting on pumpkins, have hot dogs and mac and cheese, and a hay ride,” she said. “Everyone likes to hang out with a friend when they’re fishing.”

Families can still sign up for the event by contacting Washington County Children Services at 740-373-3485 by Tuesday.

The projects are intended to benefit the HPAC students as much as they help the foster children, she said.

“The whole point of HPAC is to create leadership opportunities for kids,” she said.

As the projects developed, she handed responsibility for managing parts of them over to the students so they could understand how complex things get done in the world by groups of people.

“For kids applying for college, to say I was a project manager for this event, that looks really good on a resume,” she said.

Another aspect of HPAC’s mission is connecting with the community. As word about their work got around, merchants and service clubs came forward to help with projects. The Oct. 27 event is being held at the Sacred Heart retreat on U.S. 50, an offer that came about because two of the HPAC members volunteered to help the nuns there with some landscaping work. Rink’s provided the food, and the Kiwanis Club of Marietta has donated some cash, Laing said.

Participation in the events has gone from 16 in the first one to 32 in the most recent, a fairly large proportion of the 80 foster children in Washington County, she said.

McKayla McClain is a junior at Warren High School. She said her involvement in HPAC has helped fulfill her ambitions to help others. It’s shown her how a community can become closer with shared concerns.

“It’s a great way to help each other, get to know each other, experience teamwork helping out the community and the school,” she said.

She intends to continue with the group through her senior year.

“I like to help people,” she said. “Personally, I don’t think I need anything more in life so I want to share it with other people.”

“They take what they’re doing very seriously,” Laing said. “”We want them to be empathetic, to notice needs in the community, to be able to plan and organize, to have confidence, to have the ability to run projects, for them to know how to be decent human beings.”

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