GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Blue pinwheels lined Orange Avenue last Friday as local organizations gathered outside the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for the inaugural Clay County Building Community, …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Blue pinwheels lined Orange Avenue last Friday as local organizations gathered outside the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for the inaugural Clay County Building Community, Building Hope event as part of the nationally recognized Child Abuse Prevention Month.
While living and working in Palatka, Sandra Hartley was an instrumental figure in planning and organizing a similar annual event there. After accepting the role as the human resources senior executive at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, she decided to bring the event to Clay County, calling every organization she could come up with that dealt with safety for children and family well-being.
“The idea behind the event today is about prevention and awareness,” Hartley said. “If anyone wants to pick up resources, everyone is here.”
The event was headlined by a large tractor-trailer that reminded guests in bold print that they can make a difference in the lives of abused children. The truck, and the blue pinwheels, are part of the national campaign Pinwheels for Prevention, which works to showcase organizations that help children live worry-free, safe lives. According to the campaign, the pinwheel “has come to serve as the physical embodiment, or reminder, of the great childhoods we want for all children.”
The truck, which travels to about 20 locations each April for similar gatherings, made its first stop in Clay County for this event.
“Our goal is providing a hub for networking of providers,” said Tommy Forrest, an employee of FedEx Freight and road team member for the Pinwheels for Prevention Truck. “I’ll see people from different organizations exchange business cards and it helps the various organizations connect.”
Irene Toto, chief executive officer of Clay Behavioral Health Center and Kids First of Florida, served as a co-sponsor of the event through her organizations, and believes that bringing everyone together is the only way to protect children in Clay County.
“Awareness is key,” Toto said. “Protecting our children is everyone’s job. This event teaches everyone in the community that working together we have a better chance of keeping kids safe.”
Behind the whole event is an organization that sees many of the abuse cases first-hand, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. When Hartley decided to organize this event after moving from Palatka, Sheriff Darryl Daniels was one of the first on board.
“Over the years I have seen so many [child abuse] cases in Northeast Florida that it sickens me,” Daniels said, adding that Clay County has had more than 600 serious cases of child abuse in the last two years. “I hope this event brings awareness to the fact that we have some kids running around dealing with this [in Clay County].”
Awareness was the theme of the day, as many organizations, and some members of the community, do not believe that the average resident knows how serious of an issue this is locally.
“The community needs to be aware that there is significant child abuse out there,” said Catherine Gaul of Middleburg. “I have a foster child who was abused. We came here today because it’s good for her to know that it’s OK and that she’ll be OK.”