*This story first appeared in The Budget’s April 25, 2018, Local Edition.
By Josh Yoder
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child.
“We all want children who don’t have to recover from their childhood,” Michelle Kelly, director of adult services at Anazao Community Partners said at the Holmes County Department of Job and Family Services Community Breakfast on the snowy morning of April 19 at the Carlisle Inn in Walnut Creek.
Each year during Child Abuse Awareness Month, partnering entities in Holmes County meet to share messages of success through careful coordination at the annual breakfast.
“We have to engage the village,” Kelly said. “People in the community must collaborate and partner with the child service providers because we all have the same goal in mind: happy, healthy children.”
Dan Jackson, director of Holmes County Job and Family Services, took the time to thank officials present for their roles in improving child welfare throughout Holmes County. The group included: County Auditor Jackie McKee, Prosecutor Sean Warner, Judges Tom Lee, Robert Rinfret and Andrew Hyde, Sherriff Zimmerly and his department, Detective Henry Yoder and Deputy Brooke Yoder, County Engineer Chris Young and County Commissioners Joe Miller, Ray Eyler and Rob Ault.
“Oftentimes, in other counties, there is friction between elected officials and people at agencies like ours that can make things complicated,” Jackson said. “I feel very fortunate to be in Holmes County because there’s a level of cooperation that is very rare in the state, and families and kids benefit because of that.”
Difficult issues can be hard to address. With gratitude, Jackson addressed a room full of people who do not turn away from the emotional trauma that is inflicted upon families on a regular basis. With the combined efforts of community members, Jackson’s agency is able to intervene, address dysfunctional situations and help children and families to not just survive, but thrive.
One such family, the Lovedays of Millersburg, shared their story to illustrate just how functional the child welfare system can be when the community cooperates.
Scott Loveday admittedly was late to arrive at fatherhood when he and wife Amy adopted their daughter, Mariah, when he was 50. The well-established financial analyst was married to his wife for 24 kid-free years, working from home and enjoying the back end of life. “We had it made,” Loveday said. “But life was boring.”
The Lovedays decided before marriage not to have biological children. They often worked with children, but never before had a desire to have any of their own. After a conversation about adoption with Mariah’s foster mother at church, everything changed.
Initially, Scott Loveday was resistant. “I was afraid that I couldn’t be the father I wanted to be,” he said. “But I couldn’t get Mariah out of my head.”
After seeing an article about adoption in AARP Magazine, Scott found the confirmation he needed, and he, Amy and Mariah took a leap of faith.
“My parents said adopting me was kind of like getting a puzzle from Save and Serve,” Mariah said. “There’s a picture on the front of what it should look like when completed, but you never know if all the pieces are in there.”
Most individuals have parents or grandparents, scrapbooks or photo albums to piece together all the parts of childhood that aren’t immediately remembered. But for Mariah, much of those “puzzle pieces,” fragments of memories, feelings and experiences that have been forgotten, surfaced not from family keepsakes but files, protection orders, custody documents and court decisions.
Reading through documents, Loveday illustrated the origins of the emotional discord that she experienced on her way from poverty and neglect to an adolescence filled with love and support. Loveday traced herself through her earliest memories of her birth parents and her older brother, their time staying with an aunt and all that the parents did not do to create a home conducive to healthy childhood development.
She walked the listeners across the spectrum of memories through her scrambled life to the peace and harmony in the normalcy at the other end. Today, the 17-year-old West Holmes junior is doing well in school, is surrounded with supportive friends and was crowned the 2017 Antique Festival Queen.
“Normal is a relative term,” said Amy Loveday of the family as it exists today. “This isn’t a normal family, but it’s normal for us. Somehow in the vastness of this giant world, we managed to cross paths with that blue-eyed girl at church, and by the grace of God we’ve managed to make a family out of three very unlikely, very different people.”