Submitted by JOYFUL CONNECTIONS
OAK HARBOR – According to executive director Sheila Powell, Joyful Connections was the result of a Leadership Ottawa County Community Improvement Project of the Class of 2007. Leadership Ottawa County is a local educational program that exists to develop, strengthen and enrich leaders for Ottawa County through an excellent leadership program. As part of the curriculum, each class must work as a team in designing, implementing and presenting a community improvement project that will positively impact Ottawa County.
The LOC Class of 2007 members spoke to various community leaders about the needs in Ottawa County. Judge Bruce Winters explained to the class the need for a safe location where children could be exchanged between separated or divorced parents without the children witnessing verbal, and sometimes physical altercations between the parents. The LOC Class of 2007 embraced the need and decided to make their class project one that would educate the public on the sometimes precarious and unhealthy position that children are placed in when parent’s divorce. Their goal was to find a nucleus of concerned citizens that would take up the cause and follow through with opening a supervised exchange and supervised visitation center. They aptly named their project “Joyful Connections.” And the rest is history …
Sheila has been with the organization since she became a board member at the first Board meeting that was held in July of 2007. She recalls when, with the help of Judge Winters, the Board worked diligently to raise funds to establish the organization’s 501©3 non-profit status and wrote a grant to obtain funds to hire the Board’s first Executive Director, Karen Demangos.
Karen was instrumental in writing policies and procedures to govern the services to be offered by the organization, and she supervised the opening of the facility. Originally, Karen worked with volunteers to provide services to families. She also worked diligently to educate the public about Joyful Connections’ services and its need for operational funding.
Joyful Connections opened its doors in October of 2008 with its mission – “to provide Supervised Exchanges and Supervised Visitation for families in Ottawa County.” Supervised Exchanges allow divorced or separated parents to exchange their children in a safe and neutral setting to prevent the children from being caught in the middle of family/parental disputes. Supervised Visitation allows children who are living with a relative or in a foster care placement to visit with one or both parents in a safe, secure, friendly, and homelike setting.
When children are moved from their homes due to adult issues such as child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, untreated mental issues, neglect from poor parenting skills, and drug or alcohol abuse, it is very traumatic for them. They do not understand that they were removed from their home to protect them. Mental health professionals state that it is vital to a child’s emotional and physical well-being to be reconnected with his/her parents as soon as possible after his/her removal. Professionals report that children develop in a healthier manner, both emotionally and physically, when they are allowed visits with their parents, even if those visits must take place in a supervised setting.
Sheila has worked for Joyful Connections in many capacities and has been the director for the past five years. She reports that throughout the years they have learned firsthand that no matter what has happened in the child’s life, they always want to see their parents, and they want to know their parents love them. Sheila recalls her most memorable moment at Joyful Connections when she monitored a visit for a Dad and three children. Dad was referred to Joyful Connections for Supervised Visits through the Juvenile Court. He had just completed inpatient rehab and was working on staying sober in his home environment. Dad was nervous, wondering what the children would say because he had not seen the children for a year. The children were living with a grandparent at the time and grandma brought McDonald’s food so the children and Dad could have dinner together. As Sheila helped set out the food after the children were seated, the middle child looked up at her and softly said, “Thank you for letting me see my Dad.” Sheila knew that Joyful Connections was providing a valuable service for the children, but it was even more impactful hearing it from a child.
Joyful Connections is located at 8200 W. Ohio 163, Oak Harbor. Their location is central to the county as clients come from the Genoa area across the county to the Marblehead area. Their location makes it advantageous for clients from either end of the county to access their services. Children might be placed in Ottawa County or one of the surrounding counties. With their location central to Ottawa County, they focus of shortening the children’s commute to see their parents.
To accommodate the work schedules of the parents and the activities of the children, Joyful Connections provides services seven days a week by appointment only. Children range from a few days old to age 17. The largest age group of children receiving services is 5 to 9 years old.
Ten years later, Joyful Connections is celebrating its successes.
Since opening in 2008, Joyful Connections has served:
- 359 cases
- 564 children
- 727 adults
Of the 359 cases:
- 15 were supervised exchanges
- 337 were supervised visitation
- 7 were supervised visitation that moved to supervised exchanges
In the past 10 years, Joyful Connections has:
- Supervised 6,540 visits – Totaling 14,177 hours of family time
- Monitored 677 exchanges – Keeping children free from conflict between adults
Joyful Connections serves an average of 17 cases each month and schedules an average of 75 visits per month. The length of time that children and families engage in service varies based on the case. Children might visit one time or visit for several years, depending on the case. It is the hope of Joyful Connections that families will be reunited and move on to unsupervised visits.
Over the years, as board members learned more about the impact of our services on the children, they redesigned their mission statement to align with their desired outcome. Their Mission is to minimize the negative impact on children experiencing challenging family situations by providing safe, secure and nurturing opportunities for family members to spend time together.
As a neutral third party, Joyful Connections focuses on keeping all parties safe and providing factual documentation for those parties who will make decisions about the case. Joyful Connections does not give opinions or give parenting advice to visiting parties or share information between the parties.
Safety is the No. 1 priority at Joyful Connections safety rules are enforced to ensure that all parties are kept safe. The second priority is to ensure that the children have a positive experience at Joyful Connections, by monitoring conversations and providing toys, books, games, and crafts that children enjoy with their parents. The rooms are set up to mirror a homelike setting with comfortable furniture and a dining room table and chairs to enjoy a meal.
Sheila shared that Joyful Connections has been very fortunate in having such strong support from the community. Donations have helped outfit the rooms and provide toys, games and crafts for the children. The community has also provided much need operational funding to keep the doors open and the lights on. Joyful Connections seeks grants to fund the agency, but also relies heavily on donations and fundraising activities, such as their signature fundraiser coming up in October – “Family Frenzy” – where six local teams will go head to head to determine who wins the championship. Family Frenzy is much like the TV game show Family Feud. The event will take place on Saturday, Oct. 27th at the Port Clinton Elks Club. Tickets are $30 per person and include dinner. Tickets must be purchased or reserved in advance by calling Joyful Connections at 567-262-3181.
Sheila and the Board of Directors would like to thank the community for their tremendous support and kindness over the years. In a time when other Supervised Visitation/Exchange Centers have experienced difficult times and had to close their doors, they are especially appreciative of the many caring and generous donors who have contributed to Joyful Connections over the years.
For information regarding Joyful Connections and their fundraising events, check out their Facebook page or check out their website at joyfulconnections.com.