On a warm Florida evening, under the glow of a moon-lit sky, Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree and his wife, Diane, took a stroll along the streets of St. Petersburg.
As they proceeded along the streets of the town, Crabtree noticed a woman with two young children, sleeping in an alcove of one of the businesses that had closed for the day.
“Anytime you see someone in a desperate situation like that, you want to do something,” Crabtree said.” There’s a lot of people with desperate circumstances. We see them standing on the corners, soliciting handouts.
Crabtree began to think about that situation and how it related to Scioto County, where the weather is far from 70 degrees year around.
”Even if it’s just in a homeless shelter, we need to do something to get these people out of the weather. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working outside, eight and 10 hour days, working when it was below zero. No matter how much clothes you put on, you can’t get warm.”
In a Daily Times article dated Monday, March 6, Scioto County Commissioners Chairman Bryan Davis said there are more than 200 children in protective services in Scioto County. The same article noted that there are only 24 registered foster homes in a county of approximately 79,000 residents.
“These kids deserve love. They deserve the attention and they deserve to be able to go to school,” Davis said in the article. “A lot of these kids are delinquent and they’re not in school, they’re getting further and further behind and not getting the education they deserve and we need help.”
In the past, help was provided through the use of a children’s home. Scioto County does not currently have a children’s home to take care of the 200-plus children in protective services and the children who are living on the streets — which are not even accounted for in the system.
The last children’s home in Scioto County closed Feb. 27, 1970. According to a Portsmouth Times article associated with the same date, the Hillcrest Children’s Home in Wheelersburg, Ohio, shut its doors for the last time.
One year later, Bob and Floyd Holsinger — two former “Hillcrest kids” as they were called — purchased the home. They eventually decided to tear down the structure after the property had been vandalized, causing extensive damage to the building, according to the article.
“Dad (Bob) wanted to turn it into a nursing home or apartment buildings, or something like that,” Robert Holsinger Jr. said recently in an interview with the Daily Times. “It was just destroyed too badly, there was nothing left. All the electrical wiring was stripped out. The windows were busted out. It really broke Dad’s heart. It wasn’t his intention to tear it down, but there wasn’t much left when he bought.”
Rosemary Stovall, 80, a former Hillcrest kid who now resides in Florida, said the looting broke her heart more than the news of Hillcrest being torn down.
“I said they owed me a brick,” Stovall said with a laugh. “God bless them is what I thought. Of all people, it was just telling that it was a Hillcrest kid that bought the place and tore it down.
“More than tearing it down, what makes me feel so bad was the destruction that happened to Hillcrest, the looting that went on and the damages. It just seemed awful and then seeing pictures of the weeds growing up around it.”
Since the days of Hillcrest, especially the last decade, Davis admitted the child-care problem has increasingly gotten worse and something has to change. Davis said there has been talk at the state level about different counties looking into creating new children’s homes, mainly because of the heroin epidemic and the need for safe housing.
“A lot of young people that come out of those homes become outstanding individuals,” Davis told the Daily Times recently. “They go on and live really good lives. This whole area is full of people that came out of Hillcrest.
“But anything we can do to keep our kids safe, we’ve got to do something. I’m hearing horror stories. Kids that are waking up and something has happened to their parent overnight. We literally have orphan kids now because their parents are dead. You not only have to worry about the safety aspect of that, but also the emotional. It’s terrible.”
Stovall believes Hillcrest helped save her life.
“I was lucky enough not to be fostered from house to house to house,” Stovall said.
After she became an adult and started a family of her own, although she didn’t have the means to start her own children’s home, Stovall decided she wanted to help other children in need, so she became a foster parent.
She fostered a handful of kids over the years. However, one kid in particular had been passed through the system, from house to house and had an attitude problem by the time she met Stovall.
Stovall took the teenager to a child psychologist at the University of Perdue. After a few visits, the psychologist recommended a psychiatric facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana. So, Stovall drove to Indiana and checked the teenager into the facility.
She believes the treatments must have worked because she received a call from the teenager years later.
“She told me she was pregnant and she was married,” Stovall said. “She came and visited with us. She said, ‘You know, I couldn’t understand when you said you loved me, I couldn’t understand that. Now I know.’ Because she had kids and she understood.”
While Stovall enjoyed being a foster parent, she credited her ability to the lessons she learned at Hillcrest. While she now resides in the Sunshine State, Stovall said the last time she visited Scioto County, she saw an area in desperate need of another Hillcrest.
“Portsmouth is a very destitute place,” Stovall said. “The last time we were there, it absolutely broke my heart. We were in New Boston, going to Portsmouth and the roads, the houses — everything is deteriorated. You know people are just heart-breakingly poor, so I imagine there are kids that would be better in some kind of institution. We had warmth. We had shelter. We had people that were good to us. We had good food, it was nutritious, it might not have been ice cream and cakes, but we never lacked for anything.”
Crabtree concurs with Stovall’s assessment — getting the children off the streets is the top priority.
“I think it would be a better option,” Crabtree said. “Children are the ones really suffering, especially when you walk down the streets — you see adults suffering, but when you see children suffering and that’s the best that they’ve got, something needs to be done.”
Davis said the problem is escalating rapidly and there isn’t a clear-cut solution. However, if a children’s home is part of the solution, erasing the labels of yesteryear could provide a challenge.
“I don’t know what it would look like. Would it be what Hillcrest looked like, I don’t know,” Davis said. “There is a stigma out there from the past, and I’m not talking about Hillcrest, where in the past there may have been some homes, I call it the ‘Annie syndrome,’ where it wasn’t that good of a place. That wasn’t the case that I know of with Hillcrest, but there’s a stigma out in society about children’s homes, of itself not being a good thing.”
Davis admitted that with state and federal regulations, a children’s home would operate completely different.
Mary Barnette, who attended Hillcrest from 43-54 agreed with Davis and said a home today would have the luxuries of being modernized.
“I think it would be just wonderful because it would be more modern today,” Barnette said. “It would be more updated where kids would have more privileges. It would be more educational. They would have a better life than being out on the streets, or being somewhere and getting mistreated. They would have a better life.
“They would have all the things that they need like medical care. I think it would be wonderful if another home was built like (Hillcrest). I believe there are a lot of kids being mistreated in homes that need to be taken out of their homes and kept away from the danger.”
Davis said the closest children’s home in the area is Adams County. So, when or if the time comes, Davis said he knows where to turn to for help.
“I can’t speak from experience because I’ve never ran (a children’s home),” Davis said. “One thing we would be able to benefit from is having our friends from Adams County to be able to gain experience from. It might be something we have to look at in the future.”