Preparations are in full swing for a new fundraising walk to take place on Sept. 15. The beneficiary is the Lewisburg branch of Junior's House Child Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization.
"This is wonderful - this is so exciting - when it all starts coming together," exclaimed Executive Director Heather Warden who was in Lewisburg Wednesday for a planning meeting for the walk.
The group is busy recruiting sponsors, who will get their names on the special walk T-shirt, and signing up walkers to accompany State Rep. Eddie Bass from the Rec Center to the square and back again. Blue helium balloons and blue ribbons have already been sponsored, and H & S Pharmacy has promised to set up a water station in their parking lot on West Commerce Street.
Businesses and organizations will be vying for the title of best banner, with a perpetual trophy at stake.
This will be Lewisburg's first walk for Junior's House, but they've been doing it since 2004 in Fayetteville, the site of the first Junior's House. This year they had over 400 walkers and raised $28,000.
"It's become a big deal in Fayetteville," Warden said.
"I'd love to see it get to that in Marshall County," said Candi Mitchell, resource linkage coordinator for the Department of Children's Services.
Mitchell said for next year they want to get the schools involved, with children getting out of class to participate in the walk.
Warden quoted the statistic that, by age 18, one in five girls and one in seven boys will have been sexually abused.
"Everybody's been touched by abuse," Mitchell said. "They just don't talk about it. You know someone that's affected - whether you know it or not."
Since child advocacy centers started in the state 20 years ago, Warden says the number of investigations of child abuse has dropped from 16,000 to 9,000.
"It's more efficient, and more effective," said Warden. "The word's spreading that we're not going to allow these things (child abuse) to happen."
Marshall County is fortunate in having Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard, who has the highest prosecution rate in the state for cases involving child abuse, according to Warden, who said, "He won't tolerate it."
DCS and law enforcement can use the Junior's House office at 906 2nd Avenue North at any time of the day or night. The clinical staff is there one day a week, seeing the six clients they have for counseling now. One day a month, there's a meeting of the Child Protective Investigative Team, made up of representatives from the district attorney's office, law enforcement, DCS, and the CAC.
Last year, Warden said, there were 1,500 reports of child abuse and neglect in the 17th Judicial District. Five hundred of these were severe cases that were forwarded to the CPIT, and 84 of those were discussed in Marshall County. Of those, 61 were victims of sexual abuse and 23 suffered physical abuse or were in a drug-endangered situation.
At the Marshall County Junior's House, 28 forensic interviews were conducted, 15 victims received free trauma counseling, and nine family members got victims' advocacy services. Thanks to a change in state law, the DVD of a forensic interview made at a CAC can be admitted as evidence in court, thus sparing victims under 13 from having to tell their story over and over again.
Junior's House also goes to the elementary schools to present a program on body safety, and who children can tell if they're touched inappropriately. This was funded by a grant for three years, but that's stopped now, so staff is dividing it up on a volunteer basis.
If you need help for an abused child, call 877-237-0004. This number is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.