During April, motorists and other passersby in Blount County will notice gardens a little out of the ordinary in school yards, businesses and other locales.

Some 600 pinwheels will flutter in the breeze as attention-getters to spur the conversation about childhood sexual abuse prevention here and nationwide. April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month with the theme “Help great childhoods happen.”

“The pinwheel has come to represent great childhoods,” said Becky Rials, prevention coordinator for New Hope Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center. The goal is to have 600 of them all over Blount County.”

The 15-year-old New Hope saw 464 children in 2017, said Tabitha Damron, the center’s executive director. New Hope provides forensic interviews, medical exams and therapy services. It also has advocates who walk with the victims as they navigate through the legal system.

“We are the only place in Blount County that provides these services,” Damron said.

Rials has been busy getting locations set up for the Pinwheels for Prevention gardens. There is one at New Hope. She said Blount County Schools and Maryville City Schools have agreed to host gardens as well. Businesses in Townsend, a roadside garden in Alcoa and a church/school in Blount County will be placing the pinwheels, too.

And for those driving down Cusick Street in Maryville, they can catch the billboard above the Soup Kitchen.

It’s all about raising awareness for child abuse prevention and taking the necessary steps to prevent it, Rials and Damron said.

The Stewards of Training that New Hope provides free of charge is part of the awareness campaign. The agency is hosting three of these free training sessions in April alone — on the 10th, 19th and 23rd. They last two hours and count toward continuing education credit.

All of us have a part

It’s obvious that day care workers, teachers and church workers would need this kind of training to be able to prevent, recognize and react to child sexual abuse. But, the fact is, all of us could benefit, Damron said.

“Everybody in Tennessee is a mandated reporter (of child abuse),” she explained. “So really, everybody needs to be trained to know what to look for. We all have contact with children at church, at home, in our jobs and communities. It is on all of us as a responsibility to know what to look for and be having those conversations with our kids.”

The goal is to train 5,100 adults in Blount County, or 5 percent of the population. Rials said New Hope has trained 3,589 so far. “We trained 212 people in the last three months,” she said.

April is indeed a busy month for New Hope. In addition to the Stewards of Children training and Pinwheels for Prevention gardens, the center will break ground on a new facility in Blount County on April 4. The new facility will allow New Hope to bring its entire umbrella of services under one roof.

The current location is a modified house. “Now that we have grown and are seeing the number of kids we are seeing, it no longer functions well for us,” Damron said.

The statistics on child abuse are staggering: One in 10 children will be abused by the time he or she is 18. Damon said of those cases, more than 90 percent are by someone the victims knows and trusts.

That’s why campaigns like what goes on during Child Abuse Prevention Month and in the 11 other months are so important, the two advocates said. Rials said she will continue to press upon this community the need to be trained.

“We are all stewards of children,” she said.

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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