story and photos by Debbie Miller, special to The City Wire
Hundreds put on their running shoes Friday (April 18) and donned shades of neon color in pink, green and orange to help support the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County.
Jolana Aibangbee, director of development for the nonprofit organization, said the 5K run and related walk in Rogers offer an opportunity to promote awareness about an important topic.
“This event gives us an opportunity to shine the light on issues of child abuse,” she said.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County, established in 2000, provides a safe place to serve sexually and physically abused children in a supportive, child-friendly environment, according to its website.
Aibangbee noted that a key element of the center’s work is having professionals from multiple agencies, such as the Arkansas State Police, the Benton County Prosecutor’s Office and the Division of Children and Family Services on-site.
“Everyone is in the same location so the child will only have to tell the story once,” she said.
In addition to interviews, professionals at the center also provide counseling services and conduct forensic medical exams. In 2013 the Children’s Advocacy Center opened 646 cases, conducted 625 forensic interviews, performed 149 forensic medical exams, and provided 1,513 counseling sessions to children and their families, according to its annual report.
The 14th annual Cherishing Children Glow 5K Run and 1 Mile Fun Walk represented a key event during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Blue T-shirts for the event were splashed with neon green scenes of a runner, the Children’s Advocacy Center logo and a pinwheel.
During April, the Children’s Advocacy Center works with various local organizations to display colorful pinwheels in public locations. The pinwheel was chosen by advocacy centers to represent a child’s innocence. This year, pinwheels were placed at locations such as local police departments and the sheriff’s office. A total of 325 confirmed child abuse cases occurred in Benton County last year.
Racers who had registered in advance were able to pick up their race packets at the Children’s Advocacy Center, and this gave them the opportunity to see the center and learn more about its work.
Almost 600 runners and walkers pre-registered for the downtown Rogers festivities. Aibangbee said day-of-the-event registrations would likely push the total number of participants to 650. The event raised $24,000 in 2013, and while this year’s proceeds had not been tabulated during the weekend, Aibangnee said organizers hoped the fundraiser would surpass that amount this year. Proceeds from the event go directly to support advocacy center services.
Breaking Silence was the featured band providing entertainment from behind a banner that proclaimed “Eliminate child abuse; Empowering children to find their voice” — the vision and mission of the Children’s Advocacy Center.
Kelsey Steele was one of the scores of volunteers assisting with the event. She said the Glow Run provides an opportunity for families to participate in fun activities and learn more about the cause.
“This is such a great awareness event,” she said.