The Highland County Society for Children and Adults, one of the most unique local charitable organizations in the country, is in its 71st year of service to Highland County. The society traces its history back to Nov. 13, 1950, when 51 residents of Highland County representing various civic, health and church organizations met at the Highland County Courthouse to discuss the organization of a local group to work in conjunction with the Ohio Easter Seal Society.
Members of the Rotary Clubs were included in the group as the National Easter Seal Society had been founded by a member of the Lorain, Ohio Rotary Club.
The organizers decided to name the organization The Highland County Society for Crippled Children. The first officers elected were W. D. Crosley as president, the Rev. Ed Bousman as vice president and Hillsboro Rotarian James Byrd as treasurer. The first fundraising activities conducted for the organization were the sale of lily parade flowers by local Boy Scouts, bake sales, a mail campaign, card parties and food sales. The Rotary clubs made contributions to assist in purchases of equipment for children with various disabilities.
Prior to the establishment of the society, assistance to children with disabilities was one of the first community fundraising projects of the Hillsboro Rotary Club, which had been founded in 1936. In 1954, the name was changed at the suggestion of the Ohio Easter Seal Society to the Highland County Society for Children and Adults.
In January of 1959, the late Helen Lowell was hired by the society to work part-time as a file clerk to maintain records of persons being assisted at a salary of $5 per month. That title was changed in 1959 to executive secretary at a salary of $30 per month. She served in that capacity until 1979 when the late Betty Collins was hired (her son David still serves as the organization’s treasurer).
The first radio-telethon to raise funds was held by the Hillsboro Rotary Club in 1973 in conjunction with the National Easter Seal Society telethon. That event, which was chaired by the late Judge Darrell Hottle and the late Judge Robert B. McMullen, raised $1,715.
Because of the affiliation with the Ohio and National Easter Seal societies, the organization was required to pay a portion of the funds raised to those organizations to support their state and national activities. In 1981, that was approximately 38 percent of the funds raised. After discussions with several members of the Hillsboro and Greenfield Rotary Clubs, the organization voted in 1982 to sever ties with the Easter Seal Society and become an independent county charitable organization. The named was changed at that time to The Highland County Society for Children and Adults in recognition of the fact that many county children and residents might not might meet the definition of “crippled,” which was a term of uncertainty. Further, there was a determination that many county residents with a wide variety of illnesses, diseases, conditions or injuries had the same need for financial support.
The change of name and the articles of incorporation allowed the society to provide assistance to county residents regardless of the illness, disease, condition or injury that caused their need for assistance.
In 1988, Nina Wharton became the third executive secretary of the organization, serving until 2005 when Gayle Coss assumed the position she still holds. Coss is assisted part-time by Carol Colville. The society does not maintain a physical office in order to minimize administrative expenses. Both Coss and Colville are paid a nominal salary to answer telephone calls from residents or referrals of clients from hospitals, nursing homes, school nurses, school counselors, pharmacists, physicians and others.
The society depends on donations from the community to support its mission. Most of the funds it receives are raised through the annual Ernie Blankenship Memorial Radio-Telethon, which is conducted by the Hillsboro and Greenfield Rotary Clubs each year. Normally, the event is held on the last Wednesday in March, but due to COVID-19, the event was held virtually on June 24 last year and will be held live Wednesday, June 23 this year.
It has been hailed as a unique project for a unique organization which is dependent on the Hillsboro and Greenfield Rotary Clubs for almost all of its fundraising. Over the past 48 years, Hillsboro Rotary Club members Bob Hodson and Rocky Coss have presented programs at the Rotary district annual meetings and other district events regarding the radio-telethon as well as the activities of the society in Highland County. It has also been recognized in the National Rotarian magazine.
Some examples of expenses paid for by the society include laptops and other electronic devices used by children with physical disabilities for communication or learning, payment of prescription drug expenses, payment of medically required dental extractions, gas vouchers for payment of gas for travel to out of county medical providers, payment of lodging expenses for families of children or adults who must stay overnight when family members are being treated at out of county or even out of state facilities, providing wheel chairs, hospital beds, lift chairs, ramps into homes and many other types of expenses not paid for by insurance or other third party payers.
The society has approximately 18 board members representing 13 of the townships in Highland County who are elected at the annual meeting of the society in September of each year. Anyone who contributes to the society during the year is a member and is eligible to be elected as a board member. Currently, there are vacancies on the board for Dodson, Hamer, Paint, Penn and Washington townships. Anyone interested in the positions should contact Gayle Coss at 937-393-2142. The board meets approximately four to five times a year to set policy and program guidelines, to manage the budget and other necessary business.
All funds donated or raised through fundraisers are used to pay medical, prescription drug, hospital, out of county transportation, devices and equipment for children and adults who are unable to pay for them. Any Highland County resident who meets the financial need criteria is eligible regardless of what disease, condition or injury is the reason for the expense.
This year’s event will again be held at the Hillsboro Orpheum from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, June 23. It will be an in-person event. It will be broadcast live on Spectrum Community Access Channel 13, WSRW AM 1590, WVNU FM 97.5 and will be livestreamed on the society’s website, hicoso.com and its Facebook page.
Any business, group or individuals who would like to support the event can appear in person or call 937-402-5557 during the event to present a donation. Donations can also be mailed to P.O. Box 258, Hillsboro, Ohio. Checks should be made out to HCSCA.
Information for this story was provided by Rocky Coss.