Ottumwa Life Holiday 2018 - Page 17

American Home Finding's fundraisers celebrate Christmas while showing off historic structures BY WINONA WHITAKER P H O T O S BY T R ACY G O L D I Z E N H olidays and a historic home are a perfect combination for fundraising, American Home Finding Association decided in 2017. Last year’s Christmas tour raised money for AHFA’s many programs and gave visitors a look at the historic home on Fifth Street in Ottumwa. “We wanted to have a Christ- mas event, but a lot of people are curious about this historic home,” said Tracey Boxx-Vass, AHFA’s executive director. Built in 1927, the two-story brick home on the hill has 14 rooms, including six bedrooms. It is the former home of George Morrell of John Morrell and Company. AHFA has occupied the home at 217 E. Fifth St. since 1954, Boxx-Vass said. The home is part of the Fifth Street Bluff Historic District registered with the National Register of Historic Places. “This home used to actually house mothers and children, so there were a lot of adoptions that occurred out of this house,” said Boxx-Vass. American Home Finding Asso- ciation was established in 1899. “[We’re] one of the few social service agencies that have been around that long.” No formal welfare system existed at the time, and three local men were concerned about homeless children. “They put together American Home Finding to find homes for these kids,” Boxx-Vass said. “Of course we continue to do adoptions, but adoptions these days are few and far between.” Unwed mothers used to give up babies in the 1970s, Boxx-Vass said. That doesn’t happen as much today. Today AHFA has 85 employees. Its services include birth parent services, an aftercare program for adults under the age of 21, a maternal health clinic and foster grandparent program, and it operates an emergency shelter and a foster group home. “We’ve evolved,” said Boxx- Vass. The holiday tour seemed a great way to show off the home and AHFA. “We wanted people to have the opportunity to see the house and find out what American Home Finding does,” said Boxx-Vass. “We want an event that honors families,” she said, “but also to raise a little money.” This year the AHFA holiday fundraiser was held at Hotel Ottumwa on East Second Street. Built in 1917 in the Classical Revival style, the Hotel Ottumwa closed in 1973 to an uncertain future and sat vacant for almost a decade until the Schwartz family acquired it in 1982 and restored it. AHFA didn’t want visitors to be bored going to the same building every year, Boxx-Vass said, so the staff plans to alternate between the two historic buildings. The AHFA fundraiser includes the usual Christmas décor: trees, lights, fir boughs and brightly wrapped gifts. Fairfield photographer Kim Bradfield was scheduled to take pictures of children with Santa. “This guy’s like the real deal,” A nativity scene graces the yard of American Home Finding Association. Left: A fireplace is decked out for Christmas at the former home of George Morrell of John Morrell and Company. The building is part of the Fifth Street Bluff Historic District and registered with the National Register of Historic places. Right: Poinsettias and other holiday decor line a counter at the historic Ottumwa building. Last year’s tour raised money for AHFA’s programs. HOLIDAY! 17