Candlelight vigil held for Wayne's abused children
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 9, 2005 2:20 PM
Five hundred and eighty-seven small candles burned at Berkeley Mall on Tuesday night -- one for each of the Wayne County children that officials say have had their lives dimmed by abuse and neglect.
Larger candles surrounded the rows of smaller ones. The larger candles were in memory of the 30 children who died from abuse or neglect in North Carolina during the past two years.
The candlelight ceremony was sponsored by the Wayne County For Children Council. Its theme was "Life L.I.G.H.T.S. For Children. The abbreviations stand for love, instruction, guardianship, hope, time and sponsorship -- six things crucial to a child's development.
At the ceremony, community leaders spoke about the need to help and protect children. About 100 people attended the event.
Verna Best, a member of the council who helped organize the event, said the purpose of the vigil was to "heighten awareness of the devastating effects child abuse and neglect is having on the children in Wayne County and our state."
"Do it for the children," she said. "We must defend our innocent children. Tonight we hope to move you to take a stand against child abuse and neglect and take a stand for prevention. We can make their dreams come true."
Colleen Kosinski, a council member and director of the Guardian Ad Litem program, called abused and neglected children "invisible."
"They are all around us," she said, "but you rarely see them until something serious happens, then someone says they knew something was not right or they had seen something."
Mrs. Kosinski encouraged people to become a voice for these children. She said anyone can become a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer or a foster parent, adopt one of these children so they know that someone cares for and loves them, volunteer with domestic violence programs, in the schools or at daycares or become a mentor.
"There are opportunities all around us to help a child who's been abused and neglected," she said. "We need to make sure we don't stand by and let this terrible thing happen. I challenge you to speak up and break the silence with your words and actions and be the light of hope for children in this community."
Judy Pelt of the Department of Social Services recited alarming statistics about child abuse and neglect in Wayne County.
She said that in 2000 there were 998 reports of child abuse and neglect in Wayne County. In 2004, that number jumped to 1,488. And 587 of those children were actually abused and neglected. That's 33 percent of reports that were substantiated.
"The Department of Social Services can't do it all," said Ms. Pelt. "Child abuse and neglect prevention is the responsibility of everyone. If we work as a community, we can protect our children."
Giving reasons to support healthy families, children and communities was Howard Scott, the director of the Wayne county Extension Service.
"Some people may see young people as negative, but Wayne County doesn't have to be, and is not, that kind of place," Scott said. "Young people are important to us.
"We need to help them succeed in life. Research shows that to be a successful adult, a young person needs another adult in his life."
Scott urged those attending to be a community of caring adults.
"Are you contributing to the positive development of young people?" he asked.
Shari Stewart, director of the Fremont Methodist Church Preschool, also spoke. She said children trust adults to tell them the right things to do.
"Young children trust us in so many ways and this trust is why they can be so easily abused," she said. "As parents and caregivers, we are in a good position to help children become the adults they should be. Our children trust us to keep them safe. We need to do anything we can to protect them."
One of the sponsors of the For Children Council is KS Bank. Earl Worley, the bank's chief financial officer, told those attending that every child deserves the chance to live and grow up to become productive adults.
"It's our duty to invest our time, talents and resources as individuals and on a corporate level to help our children," Worley said.
The Carver Heights School choir sang several songs about wisdom, justice, courage and passion always being in fashion. A line in one song says, "The best thing to spend on your children is your time."
Mrs. Kosinski said she was thrilled with the turnout. It was the first such event held at the mall.
"This is a great way to increase community awareness," she said. "It's time for the community to get involved in the problem of child abuse and neglect. I think everyone heard that message tonight and I hope everyone will step up to the plate so that we don't have all these candles lit next year."
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