Contact: Thomas Hottman
Holding blue pinwheels in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, community members gathered for the annual Day of Hope at Sugarman’s Corner on Monday to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect in Klamath Falls.
While Klamath Falls has some of the highest child abuse rates in the state, Ken Morton, executive director of Klamath-Lake Child Abuse Response and Evaluation Services (CARES), said community partners have made significant improvements by strengthening families and educating the community on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of neglect and maltreatment.
“Every kid deserves a great childhood,” he said to the crowd. “The intervention services in this community are second to none and at this level, your kids are well protected.”
The event was hosted by various community partners, including, Sky Lakes Medical Center, the Department of Human Services, Klamath-Lake CARES, Klamath & Lake Community Action Services (KLCAS), Lutheran Community Services and Cascade Health Alliance.
Gathered in support
Around 100 people turned out for the event, including local government officials, community leaders and administrators from the county and city school districts. After performances by the Hosanna Christian Academy choir and the Henley High School choir, Donna Bowman, executive director at KLCAS, presented the 2017 Family of the Year award to Jen and Jerry Meyers, a couple who are actively involved with youth, families and recovery groups in Klamath Falls.
“We as a couple and as individuals have walked through tough things in life and came out with a deep compassion for people,” Jen Meyers said in a statement. “We are strong in our faith and believe in paying it forward. Our hearts are for families and restoration.”
The Meyers were nominated by Susan Heitkamp and Marlene White, family support specialists with KLCAS, based on their natural desire to reach out and strengthen families within the community.
Over the past 12 years, the Meyers have opened their home to numerous families in need, and at one time had 12 additional people living with them. In 2016, according to the statement, the family fostered four boys and took in another three girls and their mother, in addition to caring for their three biological sons.
Jeremy Player, Department of Human Services District Manager, read aloud a proclamation by county commissioners, council members, school board members, and others, stating their interest in making a difference within the community.
“There is a deep commitment to this community from local officials who are addressing this issue,” he said.
Lutheran Community Services Director Bob Pickel announced three areas that Communities That Care intend to work on to make a positive difference, including reducing the substantiated cases of neglect, increasing the number of children receiving doctors’ visits, increasing the number of kindergartners regularly attending school, and increasing practices and programs that are evidence based for preventing child abuse.
Relief nursery needed
But the “first order of business,” Pickel said, is a relief nursery for Klamath County.
A relief nursery is a comprehensive array of services that are low cost to no cost and are easily accessible, so parents of children aged birth to 6 years old, who are at risk of abuse, have a positive resource in the community to turn to.
The nursery will provide parent education, life skills training, support groups, case management and early childhood education, he said.
The board for Communities That Care will host a fundraiser on April 30 to kick start preparations for the program.
Child abuse and rape survivor, Amber Rice-Upchurch, spoke to the crowd about the support she received from CARES, which “saved her life” and brought her into the light, and encouraged the community to make the most of their local support services.
“Through CARES, I was given my voice,” she said. “I saw hope for the first time since I was 8 years old, and for survivors, hope is everything, because without it the darkness consumes us.”
As the “most successful [Day of Hope] yet,” Ken Morton said the turnout was symbolic of the change people can expect to see in Klamath Falls. The work of the community partners and local initiatives, including the Blue Zones Project, Klamath Promise, Klamath Works and Healthy Klamath, will decrease the rate of child abuse in Klamath Falls.
“I’m just so excited about more and more people becoming aware and helping us in our prevention efforts,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s the way child abuse will come down in this community when people watch out for kids and the effort is getting bigger and bigger.”
For further information about child abuse, signs of maltreatment and neglect, or outreach programs, contact:
- Sky Lakes Medical Center/Klamath-Lake CARES: 541-274-6289
- KLCAS/Family Support Connections: 541-883-5695
- Department of Human Services: 541-883-5570
- South-Central Oregon Early Learning Hub: 541-440-4777