Mentors Needed!

Training for those interested in serving as mentors for Hamilton County foster children seeking to complete high school and further their education has been scheduled for early 2010.

Two options are available for the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI) training, including:

* Saturday, Jan. 22, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at One Edwards Center on the University of Cincinnati’s main campus. Lunch and parking validation included.

* Tuesday, Feb. 2, and Thursday, Feb. 4, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day at the same location.

To register, contact Annie Dick at annie.dick@uc.edu or 556-4368.

HEMI began last year with 25 mentors. We would like at least another 25 this year.

We will write feature stories on mentors and students in issues of HCJFS Update in 2010. Please look for them!

Adoption Special on Television Tonight

If you can, try to catch the 11th Annual “A Home for the Holidays” Adoption special at 8 p.m. tonight on CBS. The special is presented by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Children’s Action Network.

The heartwarming holiday special brings together all-star talent and shares the joy of adoption.

Hamilton County has more than 200 children available for adoption. You can see some of them at www.hckids.org. We would love to talk to you if you are interested — 946-1000!

Visit http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/Our-Work/A-Home-for-the-Holidays for more information about the special and the Dave Thomas Foundation.

Holiday Miracles for Foster Children

The true spirit of this community really shines during the holidays. Our agency has been on the receiving end of much giving this season and I would like to say a public thanks for the support.

Every year, we hold a holiday party for all of our foster children. This is the chance for little ones and teens alike to experience the joy of the holidays — something they may have missed growing up in difficult situations. Everyone comes together for music, games, food and gifts. It is incredible to see the smiles on their faces as they open their presents filled with dolls, games, Ipods, phones, etc. I love to hear their squeals of joy, especially the wide-eyed little ones when they see Santa.

This year, as in past years, the employees of Xerox helped with our celebration and donated gifts for the children. Also, Fifth Third Bank, the Health Alliance (Barrett Breast Imaging Center), Rockquest Climbing Center, Mariemont Community Church, the Foster Child Enrichment Council and the Kindergarten School donated items or money to make the event happen. In addition, the Coalition of Care, a group of local churches that has committed itself to our foster children and has done more for them than I could ever publicly recognize, worked with Montgomery Community Church to host the event and donated gifts.

In addition to the party, the Foster Child Enrichment Council makes sure all of the children who are involved with us receive a special gift for the holidays. Games, books, bikes — each child gets something from their wish list. This year, in addition to the FCEC, Our Lady of Rosary St. Mathias Church, Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley Co. LPA, Xavier University and our own Job and Family Services employees donated to make the holidays special for our children. I cannot thank them enough.

Spending any time away from your family — or not even really having a family — is traumatic for a child. The holidays are especially lonely. But because of the generous hearts of people throughout this community, our children get a few moments of joy each holiday season.

Recognizing a Total Team Effort

I am thrilled and humbled to have been recognized at today’s WE Celebrate, an awards event honoring women and women-owned businesses for their achievement, innovation, social responsibility and mentoring. More here: http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20091209/BIZ/912100303/Chamber+honors+businesswomen

What an inspiring event! There is a lot of tremendous work being done in this community by outstanding women. I am honored to be among the crowd and tremendously grateful to be chosen Social Media Innovator of the Year.

Once again, I want to say this is really a team effort. I cannot take credit for this. I especially thank my team for recognizing the benefits of social media for an organization like ours. As a non-profit, Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services has to find inexpensive ways to get its messages to the public. This allows us to talk directly with our consumers, partners and the public.

Thanks again to everyone who helped in this effort!

Nearly 15 Years Later: Another Consolidation

Fifteen years ago this month, we were laying the groundwork for a major move from 628 Sycamore St. and other scattered locations to 222 E. Central Parkway.

It was, by far, the largest move in the history of the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (then called the Department of Human Services).

Now, we find ourselves in the midst of another big move.

We are relocating all staff from 237 William H. Taft Road a second major location that opened in 1998 to 222 E. Central Parkway. We are moving them downtown because it is no longer economically feasible to maintain an office that is used by too few of our clients. The economic recession has greatly reduced tax revenues, the source of our operating funds, and we are making tough decisions to live within our means and remain a vital force in this community.

We are continually adjusting and adapting to live within our resources and provide services to the public in the best way possible. We are an agency with more than 60 years of serving the community a resilient one that takes every step possible to carry out our important mission. We look forward to serving your needs well into the future.

2009: Challenging, busy year

I just finished writing my final column of the year for our agency newsletter. I summed up some of the challenges and highlights from 2009. I know it is long, but I thought you might be interested. Here it is:

This is the final Update of the year and my opportunity to summarize the agency’s accomplishments in 2009. I am more proud than ever to talk about the positive things we have done to help this community.

This has been, perhaps, the most difficult year in agency history. Deep funding cuts from the state forced us to re-evaluate personnel, programs, services and much more. We reduced our staff by more than 700 positions. We were forced to shed non-mandated services and cut back on those that are mandated. We prioritized and focused on our mission, our mandates and what we do best.

Yet, through all the turmoil, we helped more people than ever. By the end of the year, about one in seven people in this community – 115,000 — received food stamps. One in six – 137,000 – received Medicaid. More than 14,000 children received subsidized day care. Another 25,000 received cash assistance. In some cases, these numbers are agency records. In others, they are post-welfare reform highs.

We have kept children safe and families fed. We helped the uninsured stay healthy. More than ever, we have been an agency that helps people when they needed help most.

But it was more than just providing services. We found new and better ways to do things. We formed new partnerships. We became leaders in innovation, quality and performance.

This agency was awarded four 2009 achievement awards from the National Association of Counties for innovative programs that contributed to and enhanced county government. Only 500 programs throughout the country were recognized, including 13 in Ohio. The awards received by this agency represent a tremendous achievement and are a testament to our dedication to continuously find new ways to help the citizens of Hamilton County to a better place in life.

Other highlights of the year:

• We launched the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI) to help our foster youth graduate from high school and transition to higher learning by supporting them with a mentor.

• We launched a new discount card for prescriptions drugs that has helped more than 5,000 users save $100,000 on prescriptions.

• We had the highest payment accuracy rate in food stamps among the 14 largest urban counties in a six-state region of the Midwest.

• We met the child support paternity establishment benchmark of 80 percent for the first time. This allows for 100 percent reimbursement on federal dollars.

• The Public Children’s Services Association of Ohio chose our own Gail Merkle as Child Protection Worker of the Year and our foster family, Robin and David Steele, as Foster Family of the Year.

• We have found new and innovative ways to communicate to our clients, our partners and the public. We now have weekly online chats about various subjects. Our Child Support unit takes online questions during certain hours of the week. We distribute information via Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts and I have even started a blog. We have been recognized locally, statewide and even nationally for our innovative communication methods.

Many more good things have occurred at this agency throughout the past year. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the face of drastic budget cuts and the current economic environment. I hope this recap proves we have been doing far more than just treading water and that the citizens of Hamilton County are better off because of services we deliver to our community.

Enjoy your holidays. I wish you and your families a peaceful new year. Here’s to a better 2010!