NHS Human Services of Bradford and Sullivan counties honored its foster families Friday with a celebratory luncheon at Beeman's Restaurant in Athens Township.

Several foster parents attended the gathering, which the organization started holding last year in conjunction with National Foster Care Month. NHS officials handed out blue pins and gift bags to the parents, who each received awards in recognition of their dedication to the program.

Officials decided to hold a gathering after last year's appreciation brunch was well-received, said Jessica Towner, foster care director for NHS. The organization also coordinates several informal events throughout the year to thank their participating families, she said.

Currently, NHS has 13 foster families, with 24 foster parents in all, Towner said. The families vary in age, she said, and some are couples while others are single parents.

The number of children each family takes in also varies, Towner said. Some parents take in children on "respite," or short-term care. Others foster children until they are able to return to the care of a relative. Still others officially adopt one or more of the children they take in. According to statistics from NHS, over 60 percent of the organization's foster care placements end in adoptions.

Towner and Renee Smith, county director, handed out awards to each family recognizing their years of service. Each family also received special awards recognizing their unique commitment to the program. Families received acknowledgement for helping NHS staff, taking on additional responsibilities, and participating in trainings, among other categories.

Following the award ceremony, foster parents talked with each other about their experiences and shared positive improvements their children had made in the past year. Each parent shared a story about how a child under their care has thrived, and several said they appreciated hearing their child say they were appreciated.

In addition to foster care, NHS offers services to children in adults in the areas of mental health, addictive diseases, autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities. NHS provides mental health liaisons for students in county school districts, assists children preparing to exit the foster care system, hosts a summer program for children with behavioral challenges, trains and assists foster families, and supports those with mental health diagnoses, according to information from NHS.

NHS officials, foster families and those participating in the organization's other programs will also take part in the annual Valley Autism Walk, scheduled for May 20 at Athens Area High School, Towner said.

To learn more about NHS Human Services or the foster care program, call (570) 888-0051, visit www.nhsonline.org or stop by NHS' Bradford/Sullivan County office in the Enterprise Center on South Elmer Avenue in Sayre.

Honoring foster parents: Awards given to families at luncheon held in Athens