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Festival of Trees: Holiday fun for a serious purpose

November 14, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

When you dedicate your event to raising money for a special-care nursery for infants born prematurely, as the Antietam Healthcare Foundation did in 2005, donors will probably get a warm and fuzzy feeling.

But the announcement that this year's fourth annual Festival of Trees will raise money to help comfort the victims of child-sexual abuse - and catch their abusers - could force some in the community to confront a subject they'd rather not think about.

But think about it they should, because unlike the infants in that special nursery, the victims of child sexual abuse don't have a professional medical staff protecting them from harm.

What those victims do have, and will continue to have if this fundraiser is successful, is the nurses of the program called SAFE, an acronym for Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners.

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Sandy Pollack, executive director of the Antietam Healthcare Foundation, explained that when a child who's been the victim of a sexual assault arrives at the emeregncy room, one of SAFE's on-call nurses begins work.

SAFE personnel are nurses first, Pollack said, providing any emergency care that is needed. Then they collect evidence such as DNA and reassure the child that what happened was not his or her fault and that they're going to be OK.

Pamela Holtzinger, coordinator of the SAFE program, explained that nurses in the program undergo training to help with the special needs of sexual-assault victims.

"First they deal with the sexual assault part and then the victim in beginning the first step on the path to healing," she said.

"A lot of what we do is labor-intensive in the medical-legal area, but we're also focusing on their unique needs, trying to give them back some dignity," she said.

With the estimated $25,000 they hope the festival will raise, Holtzinger said that the program hopes to replace some aging technology, purchase a new computer and pay for training that is both extensive and costly.

Once the victims are done at the emergency room, many go to the Child Advocacy Center at the Walnut Street Medical Center in Hagerstown.

"We aren't seen again until it's time to go to court," Holtzinger said.

Holtzinger and Pollack said that while not every child sexual-abuse victim comes to the emergency room, the SAFE program has not lost in court on any case that it has investigated.

Faced with the evidence, defense attorneys tend to plead out their clients, they said.

The good news is that you can help without having to confront such unpleasant scenes. You need only come to the events, pay the admission fees and enjoy, knowing that because you attended, good things will happen.

The main event of the Festival of Trees will take place at the Robinwood Medical Center east of Hagerstown, where you will see a number of magnificently decorated trees and holiday wreaths.

The show begins on Thursday, Nov. 29, and runs to Sunday, Dec. 2. On Nov. 29 and 30, the display will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On Saturday, Dec. 1, hours will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 2, from noon until 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults; $3 for ages 3 to 12.

Other related events include:

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, there will be a preview party in the atrium of the Robinwood Medical Center, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., that for $45 includes admission to the exhibit and a variety of other activities.

On Friday, Nov. 30, there will be a Senior Social, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Room 122 of the Robinwood Medical Center. For $10, seniors get breakfast, lunch and a variety of activities.

Also on Friday, Nov. 30, from 3 to 5 p.m., there will be a senior "high tea" designed for grandmothers and their granddaughters, also in Room 122. The admission is $10.

There are other activities on Dec. 1, 2 and 3. For a list of dates, hours and information, go to

www.festivaloftreesinhagerstown.org.

You say you're too busy to take time out for a luncheon or to look at holiday trees? Consider the cause, then please find an hour to attend. You'll have a good time, while helping to save those children who can't save themselves without some professional medical help.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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