By BETSY BETHEL
Associate Life Editor
Area families and community members will get the chance to both celebrate youth and honor three local leaders who have served youth at the annual Celebrate Youth festival and Good Samaritan Dinner organized by Youth Services System Inc. on Thursday, Aug. 2.
Good Zoo volunteer Elizabeth Kaniecki holds up a desert tortoise named Mr. T at the 2009
Celebrate Youth festival at the Wheeling Park Ice Rink. This year’s event, featuring information, activities, games, food and entertainment, will take place from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday,
This year's theme is "Vision That Matters." It is a day-long extravaganza of food, fun and information at the Wheeling Park Ice Rink, where there will be more than 60 exhibitors set up with free activities, games, giveaways and more. The information tables are set up by groups including local universities, social service agencies, prevention organizations and family-oriented businesses.
There also will be inflatables, a climbing wall and entertainment featuring local youth bands and performers.
Lunch is provided throughout the festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- 11:30 a.m.-noon- Spoken IV with Vinnie Nobile, Garrick Sturm II, Tanner Sturm and Aaron Jeffries
- 12:10-1 p.m. - Two in Harmony
- 1:10-2 p.m. - Something Golden with Justin Yoho and Travis Hoard
- 2:10-3 p.m. - Youngest N Charge with Josh Heatherington and Stevie J
- 3:10-4 p.m. - To Be Announced
Additional entertainment provided by Isa Campbell, juggling sticks and hula hoops; and Leann Vincenzo, spinning fire, juggling.
A highlight of the day is the fact that all festival-goers receive a wrist band to enjoy the park's recreational offerings, including the pool and water slide, miniature golf and paddle boats. The wrist bands are good until the park closes.
Organizers expect several thousand youth and their families to attend the event, which serves as a "last hurrah" for the summer but also introduces families to the many resources available to them in Ohio County. The 2011 Celebrate Youth attracted more than 4,000 attendees.
"Celebrate Youth 2012 - Vision That Matters supports parents and their children with tools and activities about relationships, college, exercise, about avoiding drug use, tobacco use and gambling," festival organizers said. "Youth make choices every day, and Celebrate Youth arms them and their parents with helpful information. Having a vision for the future is the first step to getting there."
The Good Samaritan Dinner takes place that evening at the White Palace. Catered by Charlie Schlegel of Ye Olde Alpha, this year's honorees are three visionaries who served youth in Ohio County and took action to help form and support Youth Services System: Ron Klug, retired Ohio County Circuit Court Judge George L. Spillers and the late Lary Loew.
The dinner also serves as a fundraiser for the agency, which provides a full slate of services to area children and teens including emergency shelter, transitional housing, case management, prevention education, child care, supervised visitation, juvenile detention and more.
"The people we're honoring, I honestly don't think (Youth Services) would even be here without them," said Mike Toothman, Youth Services public information officer.
Ron Klug is a retired social worker and community services manager with the Department of Health and Human Resources who, in 1973, saw a need for a youth emergency shelter and organized the first meeting of interested parties to discuss starting a shelter and providing other services for youth who fell through the cracks or whose needs otherwise weren't being met.
"Out of that meeting, they formed the Ohio County Youth Services System Inc.," Toothman said. "Ron signed the incorporation papers and he's been on the board ever since." The agency formed in 1974 and Klug retired from the board in June with 38 years of service.
Klug acknowledged his role of presenting the idea of the agency to the community but quickly turned his praise on the late Ron Mulholland, the first director.
"It far exceeded my and anyone else's expectations, and this was because of longtime director Ron Mulholland and his dedication to youth and creativity in serving youth." Mulholland's tenacity and unwillingness to take "no" for an answer led to the expansion of the program to what it is today, he added.
Klug is a Wheeling Central Catholic High School graduate, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and received a Master of Social Work degree from West Virginia University. Klug now runs a greenhouse in Mozart and serves as the agency's first emeritus board member. He and his wife Barbara have five grandchildren and eight grandchildren.
After the agency was formed, the board tapped Mulholland, a Marist brother employed by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, to run the Samaritan House emergency shelter for youth. Mulholland became a foster parent through the Department of Health and Human Resources (then known as the Department of Welfare), so he could legally accept youth at the shelter.
It was Judge George L. Spillers who ordered the first youth into Mulholland's care, Toothman said.
"The first two kids that were placed there were brothers, one of whom is a current donor and volunteer. He and his family volunteer at our winter freeze shelter," Toothman said. In effect, he added, Spillers "made it possible for us to begin serving kids."
Spillers was always looking for "creative ways" to help youth, said Jill Eddy, Youth Services community based services director. "He's always been an advocate for youth, and he was always open if you needed to meet with him or if you were trying something new and innovative."
Spillers said he remembers being part of the first meetings of Youth Services and discussing the need for alternative placements.
"We were still putting kids in a one-room lock-up in the basement of the city building," Spillers said. "It was just so necessary to find some safe place with some supervision that was professional" in dealing with youth. He said he found himself in the position to help direct and order changes in the system, many of which were conceived by Mulholland.
When he heard he was to be honored, Spillers said it was "a little bit of a shock."
"I think it's a prestigious award, myself, and I was indeed humbled by it, and at the same time I was proud to have my name mentioned with some of these people."
Spillers is a graduate of Linsly Military Institute and Washington and Jefferson College and received a law degree from West Virginia University. After he retired from the Ohio County Circuit Court bench in 1995, he taught at West Liberty University and was active in community theater. He and his wife Nancy have four daughters and seven grandchildren.
Lary Loew is being recognized posthumously. In the early 1980s, Mulholland approached Loew, owner of The Cornerstone Group, about health insurance packages for Youth Services employees.
"He arranged for our staff to be covered, and when the agency came up short of funds, he actually paid the first three months' premiums out of pocket," Toothman said. Loew remained a staunch supporter of Youth Services until his death in 2011. The Cornerstone Group still holds the employees' health insurance.
"He was a big believer in the program. ... Lary's heart was big. He'd give you the shirt off his back, that's for sure," said his sister, Sharon Saseen. "We are very honored ... and he would have felt so grateful and honored that they thought of him for this award."
Loew is a Wheeling native and graduated from West Liberty State College in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics. He was associated for 35 years with The Equitable Life Assurance Society (now AXA Financial) and in 2000 was inducted into the AXA Financial Hall of Fame. He launched The Cornerstone Group in 1982, and as of 2011 it was the only full-service employee benefits agency in West Virginia. He served on the boards of the West Liberty Foundation, Northwood Health Systems and American Legion Post 1, and nurtured a love for golf and West Liberty sports.
He is the father of two daughters, who are planning to attend the dinner along with his three sisters, Saseen, Carol Loew and Brenda Thomas, and his companion, Colleen Blon.
John Moses, Youth Services System executive director, paid homage to the three honorees: "The futures of our community's children, especially those most in need, have been better secured by these very gentle but stalwart men. Their passion, commitment and giving on behalf of children is evident with many organizations in our community. YSS feels proud to say 'thank you' to them."
For more information about the festival or the dinner, call Holly Fox, 304-233-9627.