Groton Twp. couple named foster family of the year

GROTON TWP. Walter "Marty" Smith and his wife, Sarah Smith, seem a little embarrassed abou
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

GROTON TWP.

Walter "Marty" Smith and his wife, Sarah Smith, seem a little embarrassed about the attention they are getting lately.

"I don't feel like we've done anything really special," Sarah said.

Social workers in Ohio disagree. The Public Children Services Association of Ohio, an association of agencies providing services to children, recently named the Smiths the state's foster family of the year.

The couple will be honored at a banquet next week.

Erie County Job and Family Services officials nominated the Smiths.

They're "amazing" foster parents, give advice and support to other foster families and help recruit foster parents at events, said Aaron Voltz, administrator of the Social Services Unit at Erie County Job and Family Services.

"They are truly an example of people who are dedicated," Voltz said.

The Smiths, reluctant to step into the spotlight, said they agreed to be interviewed and photographed to promote the need for more foster families in Erie County.

It's also helpful to publicize the fact that many foster families do a good job, Marty said.

"You never see anyone in the news, except for negative stuff," he said. "It can be a good experience. It's hurting the kids when everybody shies away from it."

He said he and his wife have a straightforward philosophy.

"They're just kids. Every kid needs love," Marty said. "Kids aren't evil. Kids are what you've shown."

Marty, 42, manages an electrical crew for Valley Electric. His co-workers know him as "Walt." Sarah, 41, is a social worker who provides career advice at EHOVE.

The couple have three children: Jacob, 11, Lilly, 11, and Sarah, 8, known as "Sarah Liz" to distinguish her from Mom, who is known as "Sarah Jane."

The family tried calling them Big Sarah and Little Sarah at first, but neither Sarah liked those names.

The two daughters are former foster children the Smiths later adopted.

A framed photograph shows the family the day the adoption was completed. They went to a Japanese steakhouse restaurant to celebrate.

Structure, education and love are stressed in the Smith household.

"Our job is to work," Marty said. "Their job is to learn."

Faith is also a big part of their lives. The Smiths belong to a large local church, The Chapel.

"Our faith has been an important part of it," Sarah said. "Our faith has been a resource."

Church members have provided toys and clothing and offered to baby-sit, the couple said.

Voltz said Job and Family Services hopes more families such as the Smiths will step forward and provide a foster home so kids are able to remain in the same schools and community while they are in the custody of the county.

"We are incredibly eager to get more foster homes," Voltz said. "We have children placed outside of our community because we don't have enough foster homes to meet the needs."

Small stipends are offered to families who will help, he said.

The Smiths said Erie County Job and Family Services provides help and support to families who agree to be foster families.

"You're not really alone," Marty said. "They don't just drop the kid at your house and run away."