As a part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Kinetic Connections organized a flag raising and pinwheel planting at the Pocahontas County Courthouse Friday.
Child advocates, members of the community and Marlinton Elementary School’s kindergarten class “planted” 150 pinwheels on the courthouse lawn as symbols for children in Pocahontas County who suffer abuse and neglect.
John McCollum, Barry Sharp, Sam Arbogast and Joe Arbogast of the Pocahontas County Veteran’s Honor Corps officiated at the flag raising, which included the Child Abuse Prevention flag.
Guest speaker, Judge Robert E. Richardson, spoke about the importance of both the flag and the pinwheels.
“Today we’re dealing with two sets of symbols,” he said. “One is a flag that shows a missing child. A child that’s been lost. The only thing we have left of that child is the memory. The other symbol is the pinwheel. The pinwheels are the hope of the children that we still have – the ones that we can still help and the ones that still have a future.”
Richardson spoke about how the event was bittersweet in a sense – it is a memorial for the children lost to abuse and neglect, but it is also a reminder that there is hope for the children who remain.
“It is good to see so many people out today to remember,” he said. “Remembering is hard. It’s especially hard to remember the children of our community, of our state, of our nation, who have died at the hands of people who should love and care for them. It’s hard to remember because if we remember, we feel the pain. We feel that outrage and anger. We feel a sense of guilt and regret that maybe we didn’t do enough to stop it.”
In spite of the pain caused by the memories, Richardson said it is important to think about the children who did not receive help in order to remember to help those still in need.
“If we don’t start remembering and start acting on that memory, we’ve lost,” he said. “If we remember the need to address abuse of children, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll begin to put together programs and support programs that deal with drug addiction that leads to so much child abuse.
“Maybe, just maybe, if we remember the children who have lost their lives at the hands of parents with mental health problems, we’ll act as if mental health is an important issue for our community to address,” he continued. “Maybe we begin to see the children for the precious resource that they are and devote our time to encouraging kids, to making them feel loved and welcome to that if they are victimized, they’ll know that there are at least some people in the world who care about them.”
While remembering is good, Richardson reminded the crowd that action is also needed.
“It’s not enough however, just to remember,” he said. “We have to take that memory and translate it into a tool to mobilize our communities into action. At the front lines of that fight are many people. Folks who work with the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Child Protective Service division. People who are teaching parenting classes, people who are providing addiction treatment and other services to families – we need them. We also need all of you in the home front to support this effort in every way that you can, so that we can look back and say today is the day that things began to change.”
At the end of the ceremony, several awards were given to advocates who have worked hard to serve the children of Pocahontas County.
Receiving the Champions for Children Award were Deputy Damon Brock, Jean Srodes, Tabbi McCoy and Martin Saffer.
Brock humbly accepted the award.
“I don’t feel that I’ve done anything that nobody else wouldn’t have done,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized for it.”
Srodes, a volunteer in the school system, said she enjoys working with children.
“Thank you for letting me have this opportunity to work with youngsters in this community,” she said. “I just kind of fell into it. I’m very inspired to do whatever I can. Innovative ideas make their lives better and make them see how big their future can be. This is such a beautiful community, but there’s a great big world out there and some of them just need to know that they can step outside and be so much more than they ever dreamed of.”
McCoy, a kindergarten aide at MES, said she couldn’t think of a better job than working with her students.
“I’ve been doing this for about fifteens years now and I started out in special ed,” she said. “I became a teacher’s assistant five years ago. I do a job that I love and I would never want to do any other job. If they asked me today if I would work and not get paid, I would do this job because I love what I do. I do the best I can to take care of every child that comes in our school. Not just my school – the high school, the middle school – that’s just what I do.”
Saffer is an attorney who has worked on several children’s cases.
“I just want to say it’s a privilege to be a member of the bar of this court and to work under the judges I’ve worked with, and the case workers and service providers,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be a guardian ad litem. I thank you very much for this award.”
Attorney J. L. Clifton presented the Juvenile Justice Award to Prosecuting Attorney Eugene Simmons for his work with the Multiple Disciplinary Teams which serve juvenile offenders and abuse and neglect cases.
“The most important thing here today is that group of kids over there and the fact that we’ve got these symbols out here to show what we’re working for,” Simmons said, accepting the award.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org