La Conexion asks Latta to stand up against family separations at border

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News A group of citizens wants U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, to take a stand against family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. Latta has stated that the separation of families coming into the U.S. is “not necessary.” But that falls far short of calling out the practice as “a crime against humanity,” said Beatriz Maya, director of La Conexion of Wood County. “There was an intentionality in separating children from parents as a way to stop immigration,” Maya said during a meeting Thursday between La Conexion members and David Wirt, district director for Latta. “There was never an intention of returning these kids to their parents,” Maya said, noting the federal government’s admission that an insufficient record system now means that many children are still separated from their parents. Maya and others presented Wirt with a letter for Latta, asking that he support the termination of the family separations, the immediate reunification of children and parents, and allocations for more agents to process asylum claims. Wirt pointed out that Latta has stated that the separations are not necessary. That isn’t enough, Maya said. “The point is, what are we going to do about it,” she asked. The members of La Conexion asked for a face-to-face meeting with Latta about their concerns. Wirt said he would pass on that request to Latta’s office in Washington, D.C., where all the scheduling is handled. Amanda Schackow talks about family separations as Nicholas Eckhart listens. Most of the families separated at the border were not sneaking into the country, but openly seeking asylum – which is their right under international law, said La Conexion member Amanda Schackow. However, they were torn apart prior to any hearings held. “It’s pretty clear this was meant as a deterrent,” despite the U.S. experiencing a 20-year low in the number of asylum seekers, she said. Without their parents, many of the children had to represent themselves at asylum hearings – which determined if they would be deported, adopted or put in foster care. Many of the children were classified as “unaccompanied minors,” which was only because the U.S. government had separated them. “Those parents have a right to know where their kids are,” Schackow said. “That  is morally wrong.” “We have basically stolen children,” she said. Nicholas Eckhart said the separation policy is beneath the U.S. “It’s a crime against humanity,” he said. “I don’t think any First World country should do that. It’s inhumane.” Ruth Martinez shared her perspective as a mother. “I have two small kids, and just the thought of not knowing where they are – that for me would be torture,” Martinez said. La Conexion member Linda Lander suggested that Latta visit one of the detention centers where children are being held. Peg Baker suggested that he put himself in the position of those families searching for a better life for their children. “I wonder if he would have wanted his two daughters to be separated from him,” she asked. The practice has been called “a crime against humanity” by the United Nations. Lander also questioned the expense being incurred by the policy. She cited statistics showing the costs to house children in the detention centers is estimated at more than $700 a day. There are reportedly 42,000 undocumented immigrants currently being housed in detention centers. “That is not fiscally responsible,” Lander said. The Republican party has always espoused to be the party of family values and fiscal responsibility, she said. “There’s not an ounce of family values or an ounce of fiscal conservatism in these policies,”…

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Project Connect begins hooking up volunteers & donations

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Project Connect Wood County is more than a one-day event. Project Connect provides direct services to people who are homeless or in poverty, or in danger of becoming homeless or in poverty. The benefits accrue to the guests all year, and to the volunteers who make it happen. “It’s very gratifying. I see people in the store, and they ask if we’re doing this again,” said volunteer Marisa Hutchinson. She’s happy that she can answer yes. And she’ll be there to help out again. “Once you volunteer,” she said, “you start planning for the next year.” Planning for Project Connect gets started months in advance. About 30 people gathered for the kickoff meeting Thursday morning at St. Mark’s Church. The church will host Project Connect on Oct. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Project Connect was started in 2013, launched by the Continuum of Care Wood County. It was spurred by concern about homelessness. But shelter insecurity has many dimensions. People also need food, sanitary products, mental health services, legal assistance, and haircuts. Rhonda Stoner, a social worker with the Wood County Community Health Center, said she was surprised to see the change in people after they’d gotten their hair cut. The guests reported just that made them feel so much better about themselves, she said. Last year project volunteers cut the hair of 118 guests. Those seeking help are not clients, they are guests, neighbors stopping over for a helping hand from other neighbors. “We approach everything from the aspect of hospitality,” said Erin Hachtel, one of the co-chairs for the event. Each guest first talks with someone to determine what they and their families “need to be healthy, safe and secure,” Hachtel said. Then they are assisted by a host who guides them through a maze of stations to help find just what they need most. What brings them in varies. Last year, the biggest need was help getting through the holidays, Hachtel noted. That was the first time this was mentioned. The survey of the top reason they came included seeking employment, desire for more education or training, stress management, legal assistance, mental health treatment, housing, and internet connectivity. By having hosts and guest navigate the event together, Hachtel said, “we’re saying we’re all in this together. Let’s walk together to find what will help you and your family.” In 2017, Project Connect helped 574 individuals from 278 households. More than 200 people volunteers and 52 providers and agencies set up shop. During the day 235 bags of food were distributed. Also 44 people had their vision checked and 84 received blood pressure and blood sugar screenings. More than 200 hygiene kits were distributed, and 110 people were able to get birth certificates. The ability to get their birth certificates “was extremely well received,” said co-chair Felicia Otte. “We hope they can get their needs met the day of the event,” Otte said. That includes wholesome meals through the six-hour event as well as childcare. But doing that takes a lot of volunteers the day of Project Connect and the weeks leading up to it. Service providers must be lined up. Donations solicited and collected. Susan Clanton, of United Way, said that coats for kids as well as in adult plus sizes are always needed as are gloves. Donations can be dropped off at The Fringe Thrift Store in the Woodland Mall or at the United Way Office in downtown Bowling Green. “Also,” added Hutchinson “pet food and supplies.” We don’t want them to get rid of their pets, she…

Library to celebrate 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, June 9

From WOOD COUNTY DISTRICT PUBLIC LIBRARY Families with young children birth through preschool are invited to a Celebration of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten at the Wood County District Public Library Children’s Place on Saturday June 9, from 10 a.m. to noon. Included in the one year celebration of this ongoing reading challenge program will be an author/illustrator visit form Shari Halpern, a Family Resource Fair with the Wood County Early Childhood Task Force, and special recognition for everyone registered, new registrants, and the 20 “Royal Readers” who have already achieved the goal of 1000 books! The 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program began last June with a kick-off with guest author/illustrator Denise Fleming. (Click to read story.) In the past year, 800 young children have registered in the library or online at The Children’s Place looks to register more babies and young children at this event. This program has been supported by the Friends of the Library and continues to be supported by the WCDPL Foundation with private donations. The Wood County District Public Library will be giving Shari Halpern’s picture book Dinosaur Parade to all children present and registered in the 1000 Book Before Kindergarten program. Shari will be share a presentation at 11am and stay to autograph copies of Dinosaur Parade. The Resource Fair will include local agencies and organizations as well as daycare and preschools. Crafts and activities will be available to enjoy. Please contact the Children’s Place at 419-352-8253 with any questions about this event or the ongoing Summer Reading Program “Libraries Rock!”

Project Connect holds kickoff meeting June 7

From PROJECT CONNECT WOOD COUNTY Community members and local organizations are joining together again to plan for the sixth annual Project Connect Wood County. On Thursday, June 7, event planners and interested community members will meet at 8 a..m at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church for breakfast and the start of the new planning year. It will be a time to highlight goals for the upcoming event, showcase past results, and recruit new community volunteers. A dedicated team of volunteers from the community, churches, and social service agencies are organizing Project Connect, which is scheduled for Wednesday, October 17 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 315 S. College Dr., Bowling Green. The event provides a broad range of free services to families and individuals at risk of or experiencing homelessness or poverty. The Wood County Continuum of Care Coalition began holding what was then called Project Homeless Connect in 2013. Since that time, hundreds of people in Wood County have received critically-needed services, and many others have been impacted through volunteerism. Commissioner Doris Herringshaw will again serve as the event’s Honorary Chairperson. For more information and continuing updates, visit our Facebook page:

Foster family opens home and hearts to 19 children

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Some parents dream of becoming empty nesters. Quiet dinners, no pediatrician appointments, less hectic households. But Chris and Melanie Feather, of Grand Rapids, felt something was missing when their four boys grew up and moved on. So they took a bold step – bigger than buying an RV or a warm weather winter retreat – they became foster parents. “We had empty rooms,” Melanie said. “We really felt that was something we needed to do.” That was seven years and 19 children ago. “I love kids. I could probably do this forever,” Melanie said, giving a sideways glance at Chris to check his reaction. It took a few seconds, but then her husband’s straight face broke into a big silly grin. The couple, who was recently named Wood County Children Services Foster Parents of the Year, has taken in children ranging from newborns to 17-year-olds. So they now have four adult children, one adopted, plus six biological grandchildren, and “a lot of honorary” grandchildren. “I always think there’s somebody else out there who needs us,” Chris said. “There are a lot of kids who need love,” Melanie said. “They come in as strangers and leave as family.” “Or they don’t leave,” Chris said, referring to all the kids that stay in contact with the Feather family. “It makes my heart happy,” Melanie said, smiling. The Feathers readily admit the job of foster parenting isn’t easy. It ranges from fun and a blessing, to frustrating and nearly maddening – and that can be all in one day. But they try to stay focused on the goal. They are in this to get kids through rough patches in their lives that are no fault of their own. Some children don’t want to be removed from their families, no matter how bad that environment might be. “Some of the kids are mad they are in foster care,” Melanie said. She and Chris explain to the children that they realize they aren’t their parents. “But we’ll be their mom and dad as long as they need us to be.” Chris, a school bus driver and farmer, learned early on what many kids need. “The kids just want an adult’s attention,” he said. They want consistency and unconditional love. They have chores, like cleaning their bedrooms, setting the table, unloading the dishwasher. “Some of them just appreciate having a regular meal,” Melanie said. “They want somebody to talk to, who listens to what they say,” she added. And they seem to appreciate the fact that the Feathers make a big deal out of the kids’ birthdays and holidays, Chris said. Melanie, who works in the fiscal department at the Wood County Educational Service Center, at first struggled with handling girls after raising four sons. She would caution the girls that her hair styling skills were lacking, unless she consulted the Internet. Over the years, the couple has learned to “never say never.” “After the first teen, we said we’d never do that again,” Melanie said. But that didn’t last long. “We said we’d never take more than two,” at once. But they now have four foster kids, ranging from age 4 to 15 ½. There have been times that the Feathers have nearly given up on some kids – almost. “We almost gave three back. We thought about it,” Melanie said. But they stuck by them, and were glad they did. The Feathers can see the good in children, even if their behavior is challenging, said Shelby Smith, who coordinates the foster care program with Wood County…

Cocoon needs help to secure additional funding

The Cocoon Shelter is in the last 24 hours of its #PurplePurseChallenge. The goal is to raise $2,000 to support the shelter’s services and qualify for additional money from Allstate (up to $50,000). Donations need to be fully processed, which takes a few minutes, by noon tomorrow (Tuesday, April 24). Visit

More grandparents take over raising their grandchildren

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Parenting children the first time around is hard enough. Doing it again as a grandparent is even more daunting and exhausting. But more grandparents are finding themselves in the role of parent with their grandchildren. So on Wednesday, Bowling Green City Schools hosted a Grandparent Resource Night at Kenwood Elementary. “We have a lot of grandparents out there in the district raising their grandchildren,” said teacher Jonelle Semancik. “They don’t know where to turn for help.” Kenwood Principal Kathleen Daney said she previously worked in Lucas County, where a Kinship Caregiver program exists to help grandparents who find themselves as parents again. “There’s nothing here to support the grandparents,” Daney said. “And every year there are more and more.” So Daney asked Judy Paschalis, who previously coordinated the Kinship program in Lucas County, to share her expertise in Bowling Green. “It’s desperately needed everywhere,” Paschalis said of support for grandparents. “It’s one of the most complex family situations.” Paschalis said in 2010, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of children were being raised by their grandparents. That number has continued to increase, she said, with drugs and alcohol being the cause 99 percent of the time. “I can say I know what you’re going through – because I really do know what you are going through,” Paschalis told the audience of grandparents. She and her husband have been raising their 9-year-old granddaughter since she was 4. The job is tough for so many reasons, one being emotional. “It’s no fun having a grandchild cry because she wants her mommy,” Paschalis said. “She’s really angry at me because I’m not her mommy.” And when parents don’t show up for planned visits, the grandparents are left picking up the pieces again. So these children have lots of “trauma” and more “worries” than most children. There’s also the expense of becoming a parent again in later life, when incomes are fixed. “And then, of course, you have to buy new clothes and shoes every three months,” Paschalis said. Then, there’s the stigma that comes with raising grandchildren – as if their failures with their own children caused them to desert the grandchildren. “You didn’t do so hot with your children,” Paschalis said. “People can make them feel bad about that if they let them.” But Paschalis urged grandparents to disregard that judgment. “You have no reason to be ashamed,” she said. Paschalis stressed that services are available to grandparents parenting again. There may be cash benefits, Medicaid and child support. If they can’t get custody, they at least need power of attorney. “There is help out there that you may need,” she said. And since school has changed a lot since they first parented, they need to be persistent in asking questions. Don’t let educators use acronyms. “It’s intimidating to people,” she said. Paschalis said her granddaughter’s grades are poor, so she has learned to ask for assessments and seek help. Paschalis suggested a support group be formed for grandparents and another for the grandchildren they are raising. “They need something to help them through their pain and suffering,” she said of the children. Even something as simple as an occasional spaghetti dinner can be good for the kids and save the grandparents from having to prepare another meal. One of the grandparents at Wednesday’s meeting was Deb Page, of Bowling Green. Like the others, Page thought she was done parenting, but now has custody of two grandchildren, ages 9 and 10. She was looking for advice on being patient, and on how to find…