Blue Angels Ask for Heroes

Dala’s Blue Angels returned for its 12th annual Walk a Mile for a Child fundraising event at Academy Square Park on April 6.

President Dena Blacklaw said this year they are focusing on “children needing heroes” and “speaking up.”

Among the speakers addressing the theme at the event were Police Chief Frank Stevenson, CASA Executive Director Leslee Mayers and Dr. Dana Kosmala.

Police Chief Frank Stevenson speaks at the Walk a Mile event April 6. Photos by Sarah Brown

“Child abuse is a silent epidemic that affects millions of children worldwide, across all walks of life,” Stevenson said. “It knows no boundaries of age, gender, race, economic status. It hides in plain sight, behind closed doors, in the shadows of our communities. But amidst the darkness, there are heroes among us, heroes who refuse to stand idly by while children suffer, heroes who speak up, take action and make a difference. These heroes are advocates who tirelessly fight to raise awareness and change policies.”

They’re the social workers, teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement officers and foster parents, he went on, but the true heroes are those who survive.

Stevenson urged the community to renew its commitment to protect the young ones, to learn how to recognize and report signs of abuse.

“Together, and only together, we can be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves,” he said. “Together we can create a world where every child is cherished, protected and given the chance to fulfill their potential. Let us be the heroes in the fight against child abuse.”

Mayers shared about how CASA volunteers play an important role in children’s lives. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) support foster youth by becoming involved in their life so they can advocate on their behalf.

“It is challenging,” Mayers admitted. “There are some days where we want to punch a wall – I’m being honest – when things are just not going well. But then there are also some huge celebrations when you see a family come back together and stabilize, and the kids get what they need.”

Kids should be entitled to a safe home and surrounded by loving people, she said. CASA volunteers listen to the child’s story and bear witness to that story when needed.

“Did you know that one meaningful and nurturing relationship with an adult is a child abuse prevention strategy?” Mayers asked. “While we focus in on foster youth, it’s our community’s responsibility to focus in on all youth.”

Dala Johnson and Dale Hall ring cowbells to cheer on participants in the Walk a Mile fundraising event.

Finally, Kosmala, who’s served as pediatrician for Lebanon’s children for more than 20 years, noted that many of the community’s doctors don’t know about a child’s abuse until the community brings it to their attention.

“I want to encourage you that if you see something, say something,” she said “And even if you’re not sure, don’t be afraid; speak up. If you’re wrong, it’s okay. Our job is to protect the little ones.”

Blacklaw voiced that child abuse is a topic most people don’t want to talk about.

“But just because it’s uncomfortable and not something we want to talk about does not mean that we can avoid it,” she said.

Increased awareness among the entire community is where child abuse prevention starts, she added. Most people want to protect their children, but they don’t know how.

“Often children don’t have a voice, so we need to stand together and be their voice.”

At the Walk event, Blacklaw remembered the area-local children who have been specifically honored in the past by the Blue Angels. Tesslynn O’Cull, of Springfield, was a 3 year old who died from torture and abuse by her mother and mother’s boyfriend. Karly Sheehan, a 3 year old from Corvallis, died from neglect and abuse by her mother’s boyfriend. One-year-old Asher Carter, of Lebanon, died from suffocation by his babysitter, and Sandra Lee, 7 weeks old, of Lebanon, died from malnutrition.

“Some ask me a lot how we can talk about the lives lost to child abuse, as it’s so painful. Here is my response to them: To all the children taken by child abuse, I will use a quote I found. ‘Some say you are too painful to remember. I say you are too precious to forget.’”