(Editor's note: Because the foster children cannot be fully identified unless they are put up for adoption and all parental rights have been terminated, only first names were used.)

VALDOSTA -- When asked if she was having a good time at the Department of Human Resources' fall festival, 3-year-old Celesttisha said, "Yes ma'am."

Standing there Tuesday afternoon in Olympic Park with her face painted and her arms filled with "goodies," Celesttisha had a huge smile on her face ... she had just danced with Clifford, better known as the "Big Red Dog."

Ten-year-old Cory shared Celesttisha's excitement as he ran from one activity to the next, eager to see and do everything the fall festival had to offer. Of course, Cory's favorite thing about the festival was "jumping in the bouncy house."

Celesttisha and Cory are only two of the 160 kids, ranging in age from newborn to 18, in the custody of the Lowndes County Department of Family and Children Services.

Approximately 120 of them are in foster homes. The others reside with relatives or in some type of 24-hour child care institution, said Kay Thomerson, social services foster care supervisor.

"Our goal is to find permanent homes for each child," said Thomerson. "That can be reunification with the parents, placing them with a relative, or placing them for adoption."

Approximately 25 of the kids in DFCS' custody are ready for adoption. Thomerson said they range in age from 2 to 17.

Most of the kids are placed in foster care due to some form of neglect, abuse or parental incarceration.

The fall festival hosted by DFCS was an attempt to let each of the kids participating know they are not alone.

"We want them to know there are people who love them and other kids who understand what they are going through," Thomerson said.

For many of the sibling or family groups in foster care, the fall festival was a chance for kids to reunite with brothers, sisters, cousins and other relatives.

Thanks to Smokey Bear, Clifford, and numerous foster parents and volunteers, the event was a huge success, as evidenced by the smiles on the kids' faces.

There are 40 foster homes in Lowndes County. However, Thomerson said they are "always needing new ones."

For information about becoming a foster parent, please call Kay Thomerson at 333-5200.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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