Visitors to Ritter Park can't help but notice the hundreds of American flags planted near the playground on the 12th Street side of the park. There are 453 flags, to be exact. They represent the 453 children in need of a foster family in Cabell County.
The flags were placed by Mission West Virginia as a reminder of the need for foster parents in the state. May was National Foster Care Month. There are approximately 7,000 children in the foster care system in West Virginia and only about 3,000 foster families available to them. There is a dire need for more foster parents amid an opioid epidemic that has torn many families apart, said Kylee Hassan, communications and outreach director for Mission West Virginia, in a recent interview with The Herald-Dispatch.
Sitting in the shade of a tree nearby is a very stern looking 1-year-old who doesn't seem too trusting of the people talking to him.
"I know you can smile. Give them a smile," his mother coaxes.
Beth Spence and her son Grayson are enjoying a morning in the park for a snack and people watching.
"He loves to watch people," Spence said. "We see all kinds around here."
Spence, who lives near the Memorial Arch, said it's a routine to pack Grayson into his stroller, grab some snacks and quilts, and walk around the park, eventually finding a shady spot to settle down for some relaxation and people watching.
Spence, who is originally from Winfield, likes Huntington and cites its parks as the greatest resource.
"Ritter Park is wonderful," she said. "They take great care of it. There's always someone working cutting the grass or keeping everything clean."
After a small rebellion over his pacifier, Grayson finally gives the strangers a smile.
But the strangers' excitement over the smile brought back the look of distrust.
"Well, we had it for a little bit."