The front lawn of the Surry County Courthouse got upgraded to a Pinwheel Garden on Thursday in anticipation of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
April was declared Child Abuse Prevention Month by a presidential proclamation by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and the county’s Guardian ad Litem program wants to spread the word.
“Pinwheels for Prevention” was introduced as a national symbol for child abuse prevention in 2008, and since that time it has become customary for child advocacy groups to plant “gardens” of pinwheels to raise awareness of this month.
As a group of volunteer guardians were poking holes in the ground in front of the courthouse and planting shiny, metallic blue pinwheels, Kate Appler, district administrator of the program for Surry and Stokes, offered direction to the volunteers.
“A lot of people do it, but we’ve never done it. We were given permission, and here we are. We’ve got 300 pinwheels.”
“Pinwheel gardens represent our effort to focus on community activities that support families and public policies that prioritize prevention right from the start to make sure child abuse and neglect never occur,” according to material provided by Appler from Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.
“Families of poverty have a lot of strikes against them,” said Appler. “Sometimes there are drug problems, no housing, no job, no transportation, no family support. That’s a lot to get back together.”
“When they first get involved with DSS (Department of Social Services), that’s a good time to get involved. There’s a chance to make a difference, to get families back together.
“A Guardian ad Litem serves as a child’s advocate through the legal system. They visit the child at home, go to court appearances, talk with teachers, therapists and anyone else included in a child’s life.”
The program, called “A Year to Permanency,” has as its first goal, to reunify families, according to Appler.
“Our first goal is to put families back together. But a lot of times it just can’t happen. Eighteen percent of our children go back to parents, 18 percent are adopted, and 64 percent go to relatives or other family members.”
“It’s not an easy volunteer job,” said Appler, noting there’s an eight-hour time commitment each month not counting court appearances. Each case takes a minimum of a year to wind through the court system, and guardians write a monthly report for the judge.
“That’s the hardest part,” laughed Will Holthouser about the report. Holthouser is a four-year veteran of the program and has worked with a total of 17 kids, as many as seven at one time. Another volunteer, Richard Wagner, has worked with the program for 14 years.
Joe Howlett has been with the program less than a year, getting involved after a cerebral hemorrhage left him unable to work any longer. Howlett said he threw himself a pity party because of his inability to work.
“But this work made me feel productive and useful again. It’s the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. When God closes a door, he opens another one.”
“I wanted to give back to the community,” said Amy Jarvis. “It allows me to work with children, and to be an advocate for children.
Appler said the Surry and Stokes Guardian ad Litem programs are looking for community members to become advocates for children who need a voice in court.
“There will be a training class starting April 3 at The Pilot Center, in Pilot Mountain. The class runs six weeks, with the first class date being from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., the other five weeks from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Tuesday.”
To find out more about the Guardian ad Litem program visit www.volunteerforgal.org. An application to become a Guardian ad Litem is available on that website. Also, interested community members can call 336-386-3721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about this way to volunteer to directly support children and their needs.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.