First PA Blue Ribbon Champion for Kids Award Ceremony Honors Heroes
(Harrisburg, PA) – The voices of children rang out at Pennsylvania’s State Capitol today making a powerful plea for child abuse prevention during the first PA Blue Ribbon Champion Awards Ceremony and Rally for Kids, sponsored by Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA), the state’s leading child protection organization, and PSECU®, headquartered in Harrisburg.
The voices of children rang out at Pennsylvania’s State Capitol today making a powerful plea for child abuse prevention during the first PA Blue Ribbon Champion Awards Ceremony and Rally for Kids, sponsored by Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA), the state’s leading child protection organization, and PSECU®, headquartered in Harrisburg. Young performers and speakers, including the Philadelphia Girls Choir, 2015 Red Land Little League U.S. Champion Cole Wagner, and the West Shore Christian Academy Symphonic Orchestra and Chamber Singers, summoned residents to put children first and protect them from harm. They were flanked by a sea of 4,032 blue ribbon flags around the Capitol, each one representing a child scarred by abuse in Pennsylvania, and haunting silhouettes of 34 children who lost their lives to abuse in one year in the commonwealth.
“We meet at this crosswalk of the State Capitol facing two startling realities: One, the terrible toll of innocence lost and lives claimed by child abuse, and two, the incredible opportunities each one of us has to be a champion for children,” noted PFSA President and CEO Angela Liddle. “I pray that we listen to these young voices and answer their call to keep our kids safe.”
“PSECU was founded on the belief that everyone deserves opportunities for a better life. We understand, support, and value the importance of ensuring our children can live and thrive in a safe and healthy environment, “said PSECU Assistant Vice President Karen Roland. “Keeping the well-being of children as our focus today and every day, builds a tomorrow of which everyone can benefit and be proud.” As part of the ceremony, PFSA awarded the first PA Blue Ribbon Champion designations to five individuals who made a significant impact on child safety.
Carlene Nicholas, manager, EOTC Early Childhood Programs, EOTC Family Center, Scranton, Lackawanna County. For more than 20 years, Nicholas has dedicated her life to keeping children safe from abuse and neglect. As a Parents as Teachers home visitor and a program manager, she works on the front lines educating parents about the safe care and nurturing of their children.
Emily Huggins, manager, Forensic Nurse Examiner Program, WellSpan York Hospital, York County. Huggins, a sexual assault forensic nurse examiner, facilitated more than 600 hours of education last year to the community and other medical providers on the recognition of child abuse and services available in the community to those who are impacted by crime.
Jan Harris, volunteer with the Police Athletic League of Abington Township, Montgomery County. Harris brought the Darkness to Light program, which trains people who work with children to recognize the signs of abuse, to PAL and volunteers who work with the Abington Township Police Department. She also is a victim’s advocate volunteer for the Women’s Center of Montgomery County.
Sarah Pesi, community volunteer and advocate for children in Pittsburgh. When Pesi was a 12-year-old soccer referee, she became the victim of stalking and harassment by a man in the community. Because she did not have an ongoing or former relationship with the man, there was no law in Pennsylvania to protect minors like her or adult victims from this kind of behavior. Pesi successfully advocated for legislation that passed in 2015. Now, victims of sexual assault and minors who are victims of stalking have a tool to keep them safe in Pennsylvania.
Reuben Martin, a resident of Richfield, Juniata County, saved the life of a little girl at a Harrisburg daycare in 2015. When an intoxicated, dangerous man threatened to kill the child, Martin intervened to shield her from harm. His heroism saved a young girl’s life and his expected trial testimony this year led the defendant to plead no contest in the case.
In addition, the independent panel of judges overseeing the awards selection honored the state’s entire County Children and Youth caseworker staff and ChildLine staff for their diligent efforts to protect children.
Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas, who presented a proclamation from Gov. Tom Wolf designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in PA, praised caseworkers and ChildLine staff. “The safety and well-being of all of Pennsylvania’s children is a priority for the department, as well as the administration,” said Dallas. “We must continue to be the voice for these individuals who are often unable to be heard. All Pennsylvanians have an obligation to protect and keep our children safe.”
PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, whose office is conducting an audit of the state child welfare system, echoed that call to accountability. “I applaud Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance for its celebration of children’s lives, and for reinforcing the message that each and every one of us has the moral responsibility to prevent child abuse,” DePasquale said. “When we’re talking about the safety of Pennsylvania’s children, there can be no hesitation in doing what is right and responsible.” According to the latest figures available from DHS, the cases of 34 children who died of child abuse were substantiated in 2015, and an additional 4,032 children were victims of substantiated abuse.
iHeartMedia, Inc. is a partner for the campaign and host R.J. Harris served as master of ceremonies. Turkey Hill Dairy’s giant cow provided ice cream treats and iced tea and reminded attendees to “Be Mooved to Prevent Child Abuse in PA.” The Capitol is bathed in blue light to honor child abuse victims this week, as is the Market Street Bridge in Harrisburg throughout the month of April.
Additional performers, partners, and participants include: State Rep. Scott Conklin; John Ducoff, executive director of Covenant House PA who provided the silhouettes for the ceremony; David Arnold, Lebanon County District Attorney and president of the PA District Attorneys Association; Rabbi Eric Cytryn, Beth El Temple; Adelaide Grace, president, Pennsylvania Children & Youth Administrators; Caitlin Vachon and Susan Johnson, PA DHS ChildLine; Commonwealth Charter Academy students Nolen Petrosky and Mikaela Phillips; Harrisburg Academy student Sara Safiullah; West Shore Christian Academy students Kellen Mikesell, Delaney Eagan, Anna Roe; Paxtonia Elementary student Dominik Cofield; and Cumberland Valley High School student Sam Trively.
Major sponsors of the campaign include: PSECU; iHeartMedia, Inc.; PinnacleHealth; Geisinger Health System; HE&R; Weis Markets; and GIANT Food Stores.