Daryl and Roxann Gunnarson are restoring the former Butler County Children’s Home on a hillside on Hamilton’s South D Street so it can be a valuable resource for families of foster- and adopted children.
The children’s home was an orphanage created in 1869 to care for children whose fathers were killed in the Civil War. In 1875, the orphanage moved to the location in the 400 block of South D Street — almost three acres, with six buildings — that the Gunnarsons have been restoring since their non-profit organization, New Oaks Community, bought it in 2010.
Their vision is to create a wide-ranging variety of sources to help the children and their families.
“From 2010 until now we have raised enough money, we’ve paid off the property,” said Daryl Gunnarson, a former Procter & Gamble executive of 33 years who now runs a consulting business part-time and moved to Hamilton from Loveland to take on The Father’s House project. “We’re debt-free. We don’t owe anybody anything. God has blessed us with over a million dollars have come in, most of it through donations. And so we’ve finished our first three phases.”
“Our goal is we want to create an infrastructure to support any foster child, any adoptive child, or any child of parents who were in the foster-care system in Butler County,” he said. “And we hope to be able to provide any of the services for free. Because when we’re done, we’ll be debt free. Because we only do work when God brings in the money.”
They have a broad, still-developing, vision of what The Father’s House, with buildings still being renovated, will offer to families.
Already they are offering training for caregivers about anger management and how to deal with trauma the children face.
They also plan to offer an emotional lifesaver for parents of foster children: Respite providers, who will offer “Foster Grandparenting” — taking over care of the children for a day, night, maybe a couple of days to give the parents a break.
Those breaks can be critical for the parents, the couple said, noting that the average foster family nationally quits after about a year because it can be so demanding.
“One of the people on our leadership team, he worked for the social services for 25 years, so he brings a lot of experience. He’s been working with us and developing the training programs,” Daryl Gunnarson said.
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For the kids, they envision fun offerings like art, sports, music, drama and dance. For the older ones, they hope to arrange career apprenticeships.
“We would like to have different programs like that, and we will have people come in and teach them,” Daryl Gunnarson said. “They can become part of a dance team, or maybe we have a drama thing. These are all foster kids who may not have got to do it otherwise. Or sports.”
“We’d like to have kids who played sports in college come and take these kids that never got to play sports, because they moved from home to home, but maybe have the ability,” Daryl Gunnarson said. “What if these kids came alongside them, and said, ‘Hey, I’ll coach you privately? I’ll work with you.’ And what if these kids make the high school team?”
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Also, it will be a place foster children can learn how to fill out college applications and financial-aid forms, they said, adding that only about 3 percent of fosters attend a college or trade school.
Also, the complex, which features a wrap-around porch at the mansion at the center of the complex, will be a place for families to hang out, talk, play volleyball and other games, or sit around a fire pit. It will also be a place where foster families can throw parties for free.
Here are some upcoming events at The Father’s House:
- On Dec. 9, a Sunday, The Father’s House, at 425 S. D St., will be the first stop on the “12 Houses of Christmas Holiday Tour” in Hamilton’s Rossville Historic District. The event, featuring 12 homes decorated for the season, costs $15, and is handicap accessible. People can see the beautifully restored mansion that is at the center of the nearly three-acre property.
On June 22, a Saturday, The Father’s House will host a 150-year anniversary event for anyone who has ever lived at, or worked at, the Butler County Children’s Home, which later became Miami Valley Children’s Home in 1977 before the facility closed in 1985. Anybody who has been part of the children’s home can contact Kathy Fox at email@example.com, or 513-280-6219. An historical marker will be dedicated that day. Organizers ask that if you know somebody who was involved with the home, please forward this information to them.
The couple now is raising $125,000 to convert a laundry building into a four-bedroom, three-bath, home. People can donate or offer to volunteer through www.newoakscommunity.org or by calling 513-889-2072.
RELATED: New programs give support to Butler County foster families
“One of the things we want to do is have 24-hour prayer, because we’ve realized that prayer is the key to these kids getting victory in their lives. They’ve been through a lot of struggles,” Daryl Gunnarson said. “If somebody’s just struggling, hopefully, at some point they can call a number, and somebody will answer it, and encourage them and pray with them, anytime, night or day.”
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