ELIZABETHTOWN — Every year, 6.6 million children in America are reported to be the victims of maltreatment, and of those, reports are substantiated for enough children to fill 10 modern-day football stadiums.
The Children’s Welfare Unit of Bladen County Department of Social Services is all too aware of the heartbreaking truth about abuse and neglect, and the employees are working to do something about it. On Saturday, April 30, they will host the eighth annual Child Abuse Awareness event.
“I don’t think people realize it’s going on right around us,” said Social Services Director Vickie Smith.
The day’s events will kick off at 1 p.m. with a walk that begins at San Jose and ends at the courthouse. Upon arrival at the courthouse, participants will find hot dogs, chips, and drinks, free of charge. Bounce houses and Disney characters will be on site, and various performers will be entertaining guests. Local talent such as Alyssa Bell, Madison Cain, Addison Long, TaNya Graham, and Carla Smith will be singing, and the Carolina Glitterettes, a Robeson County-based group, will be performing, along with other dance teams. During live entertainment breaks, a DJ will be on hand.
Throughout the day, door prizes, including three bicycles, will be given away, and goody bags containing, among other things, information about abuse prevention will be given out to both children and adults.
Other activities include face painting and fishing games, and numerous local agencies will have booths available with information about the services they provide.
In addition to all of the free goodies, attendees will also be able to purchase T-shirts ($12 for short-sleeved and $15 for long-sleeved) and funnel cakes.
“It’s a community event for anyone that would like to come,” said Smith. “It’s not just for those that have been touched by abuse.”
In preparation for the event, the department encouraged businesses and homeowners around the county to decorate their yards with pinwheel displays, and the winner of the contest will be announced on Saturday.
“We had a lot of good participation in that,” said Smith.
The day will culminate around 4 p.m. in what, for many, is a moving occurrence.
“We release balloons and call out the names of children statewide who have lost their lives to child abuse,” said Smith. “First, we call out their name, and then we state the cause of death.
“It sends chills over me when I hear the age — sometimes 1 or 2 years old — and why they passed away,” she said.
Marianne Valentiner, who attended the event last year and witnessed the occurrence, said, “I was there with my children, and each time a balloon would go up, it was very impactful. It’s a good event to attend.”
The event is in its eighth year, and Smith reported that the crowd grows larger and larger each year.
“It’s exciting to see the folks that continue to show up,” stated Smith. “Child abuse is prevalent in Bladen County, and we want to educate the community and give them knowledge about how to identify it.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.