Patchworks House on Madison Street in Tiffin opened in 1994 in the former parsonage of St. Paul's United Methodist Church. Its current director, Barb Flood, has been at the helm since the beginning. One employee also has been on the staff from day one.
"There haven't been significant changes to what we do. We went through a process where we re-evaluated (the) mission statement to make sure it accurately reflected the work we're doing ... It was more bringing that statement in line with the work we've clearly come to do. That role had been changing," Flood said. "We just continue our quiet existence and plug along."
The agency's mission statement explains its primary goals:
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
A young client posted this message on the bulletin board at PatchWorks House.
"PatchWorks House provides parenting, community education programs and access services which aid in improving the lives of children and families through the support of Tiffin-Seneca United Way."
Ninety-100 children come through the center every week.
The home serves as a safe, neutral site for children whose families are disrupted by divorce, neglect, abuse or other factors. One parent can drop off the child or children at PatchWorks where they can wait until another family member arrives to pick them up.
The arrangement reduces the potential for confrontations.
PatchWorks also is a home-like visitation site for children and parents who have been ordered not to meet in a private home. Trained Patchworks staff members supervise these visits, as well as the exchanges mentioned above. Flood said the staff sometimes share observations and factual information with the judge, case workers, doctors and lawyers for the benefit of the children and parents.
In addition, the agency offers free parenting classes on nutrition and other topics. Flood said classes are open to parents, daycare providers and foster parents to attend voluntarily. Other people are sent by Children's Services, probation officers or counselors as part of their case plan.
One class, "Children in the Middle," is mandated by the court for all people going through divorce or other court actions in which children are involved.
"It talks about the impact on kids when there is a divorce. That's a requirement of the court that families take that," Flood said.
Flood said about 180 people took parenting classes in 2011, requiring about 200 staff hours per year to provide them. "Children in the Middle" participants are guided in mapping out a parenting plan for the new family structure. Such plans can be very traditional or unconventional.
"One of the things we talk a lot about in the class is trying to create a plan that really serves everyone's needs and affords a child the opportunity to spend time with both parents as much as possible, tempering that with making sure everybody gets along," Flood said.
The center has two full-time and four part-time employees and unpaid interns. Board members volunteer their time, and a handful of other people also help out with administrative tasks, cleaning, gardening and yard work. Flood said interns are an asset to the agency, and they benefit from observing and working with real clients.
Flood said the agency never has a shortage of clients.
When not working with clients, employees do a variety of tasks to keep the facility clean and safe. Although Flood would like to hire more staff members, income is always in flux. Locating grants and writing proposals is a continuous process with no assurances of success. Once a grant is awarded, the recipient must spend administrative time using the money wisely, preparing reports on the amount spent and keeping tabs on deadlines, extensions and expiration.
"Grant funding is a tough way to keep going," Flood said "In the last two years, we've been really fortunate to have some of the grants steadily, all along. We got two Recovery Act grants that were very generous. We didn't have to do fundraising. We had money coming in to fully staff our program ... It would have been hard for me to ask for money when I know we have grant money to cover every position we have."
The director and her staff did a major review of the agency's operating procedures and policies, as mandated in one of the grants, to enhance safety at the site. The staff also received additional training. Flood said the review reaffirmed what they had learned through the years and already were doing, such as assigning separate parking areas for the opposing parties. It also made the staff aware of some creative options they could implement.
"We're trying to get better at the things we already do ... It's ongoing. You perfect what you do every day, learn something new, and make adjustments, or are thankful that we do have the (effective) policies in place," Flood said.
She described their work as "peacekeeping, one hour at a time." In addition to security cameras inside and outside and monitors on each floor, off-duty law enforcement officers patrol PatchWorks House during high traffic hours on the weekends. A grant pays their salaries to check the parking areas and observe those who come and go.
Flood said PatchWorks is a member agency of Tiffin Seneca United Way and Fostoria United Way. The agency also operates satellite offices in Bucyrus and Fostoria and receives small designations from neighboring counties. Flood said the satellite locations are open a limited number of hours, but the Crawford County location (Bucyrus) is especially busy.
"They looked at creating their own center ... but they just decided it would be much more cost-effective if we just kept it as a satellite," Flood said.
Last year, PatchWorks served 650 children and adults for visits and exchanges. For 2011, Patchworks provided 2,900 hours for exchanges and more than 5,000 hours for family visits. Those hours include case management, scheduling and other planning.
"There's a lot of mediation and problem solving and lots of discussion about schedules and needs. It's not just about physically exchanging a child ... There's a lot of work being done with the family," Flood said.
People seeking the center's services for the first time often are grieving or angry about their situations. Flood said she and the staff remind clients that PatchWorks is there to assist them in visiting their children. The agency's main goal is to protect children as much as possible from the negative effects of family difficulties. People may have to redefine roles for adult family members and learn new ways to communicate.
"It takes time to sort that out and to get comfort levels for healing and be able to move on. We're here to help as that's unfolding," Flood said.
She was pleased when her daughter, a student at Mohawk High School, collaborated on a PatchWorks fundraiser with three other students. For economics class, they were required to do a project, so they sold candy bars to raise money for the agency. Flood said the girls researched suppliers to find the best price, prepared a proposal, found a sponsor to help purchase the first batch of candy and put up posters. They raised $500, which Flood called "a lot of money for a program like ours."
"I think the most interesting thing about what we do is the variety of people we serve - kids from infancy through teenagers, parents of all ages, some very young, families at all different stages in their lives. It's just fascinating work. There's never a dull moment here. We do it because of the kids," Flood said. "If the kids go through with a smile on their face, then we're doing our job right."