Annual Walk a Mile for a Child draws crowd to resist child abuse

Despite heavy rains, approximately 250 people showed up to the seventh annual Walk a Mile for a Child event April 6 to help raise awareness for an issue that many understand is hard to talk about: child abuse.

“I think what’s really hard is that people don’t want to talk about it,” said Dena Blacklaw, a volunteer with Dala’s Blue Angels, who put on the event. “They’re afraid to talk about it and they’re afraid to admit that most of the time it is a family member.”

Blacklaw referenced Karly Sheehan, a three-year-old from Corvallis whose death was the impetus for Karly’s Law, which reformed child abuse investigation standards in the state of Oregon.

“A lot of us saw what happened to Karly and it was not acceptable,” Blacklaw said. “I see the need that these kids have for someone to speak for them because they can’t speak for themselves.”

Dala’s Blue Angels, a nonprofit group of volunteers, perform a variety of tasks throughout the year to keep child abuse awareness at the forefront, and raise money to help the cause.

In past years, money raised was given to ABC House in Albany, an intervention center. This year, money raised from the walk was split between ABC House, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Family Tree Relief Nursery and Linn County CAN.

Following the walk/run, participants gathered under coverings to hear speakers address the issue at hand.

Chad Christianson, detective at Lebanon Police Department, noted there were more than 80,000 reports of abuse and neglect in Oregon in 2017. It’s not possible to be present at every moment a child is abused, he said, but raising awareness and being available to children is what will change things.

They need people who are willing to give up their time, energy and comfort, he said. This can be through volunteering with ABC House, CASA, Pregnancy Alternative Center, local schools, Be UnDivided, or becoming a foster parent.

“In my opinion, and this is from experience, the biggest way to make an impact in a hurting child’s life is by being a foster parent,” he said.

Dala Johnson, the force behind the Blue Angels, expressed her concern that children are one of the most vulnerable in society and are worthy of growing up in a safe environment.

“Unfortunately, more and more younger people are abused, they’re ignored, and they’re mistreated by the adults responsible to take care of their positive environment,” Johnson said. “Children rely on others to be their voice, and that’s what today is about. Educate yourself by knowing about child abuse and neglect.”

Johnson is a facilitator for Darkness to Light, an ABC House training program that helps people recognize the signs of abuse.

“Education is the silver bullet,” said Jennifer Gilmore-Robinson, executive director ABC House. “This epidemic of child abuse is not going to end until we as a community get educated and decide that it’s going to end, and take those steps to do it.”