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Event draws attention to child abuse, neglect

April 07, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

About 80 people gathered at Bester Elementary School and City Park in Hagerstown on Friday evening to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect in Washington County.

Thousands of blue lights strung in the park were lighted to symbolize local children in need after Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner read a city proclamation that designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The lights - some of which failed to work - will shine through the month.

They represent the estimated 4,000 children who have received help from county service providers for abuse, neglect and other problems, said Cheryl Eversole, coordinator of the Washington County Family Violence Council.

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More than 1,980 cases of suspected child abuse and neglect were reported to the Washington County Department of Social Services in fiscal 2002 - an increase of about 8 percent from the year before, said Melissa Cline, program manager for Child Protective Services.

"A lot of people don't realize how many kids are being abused here," said Brianne Tesla, a children's therapist for Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, or CASA, in Hagerstown.

She and co-worker Dana Pentoney turned out Friday to raise awareness about the problem, they said.

"Washington County's not a bad county, and if child abuse is happening this much here, it must be explosive in other places," Pentoney said.

Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts from Troops 256, 250 and 297 kicked off Friday's ceremony at Bester by raising a flag in memory of children lost to abuse. The Scouts also lit nine candles to promote friendship, peace, service and their commitment to helping to prevent child abuse.

Scout leader Jessica West said the girls learned how wrong it was to resort to violence while earning their domestic violence badges this year. Capt. Doug Mullendore of the Washington County Sheriff's Department praised the scouts for their role in helping to educate the public about child abuse and domestic violence.

Eight students from Bester's select choir ended the flag ceremony with a song called, "Light the Candles All Around the World," before those assembled walked to City Park with blue glow lights in hand.

"This night is about the children, our children," Bester Principal Drenna Reineck said. "Wouldn't it be a great day when we have blue lights to light?"

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