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Junior League, Safe Children aid abused kids

BRADENTON — A garden of colorful pinwheels twirled in the sun Wednesday afternoon on the vacant lot in front of the Safe Children Coalition to mark Child Abuse Prevention month.

Traffic slowed past Coalition headquarters at 5729 Manatee Ave. W. as drivers watched members of the Coalition and the Junior League of Manatee County place pinwheels to represent the 746 children abused or neglected, or both, in Manatee County during 2008.

The local event was part of the national Pinwheels for Prevention campaign child welfare workers.

“These folks deserve it,” said Carl Weinrich, president and CEO of the Sarasota YMCA, the lead agency for Safe Children Coalition. “It’s not an easy job.”

The Safe Children Coalition is a collaboration of local community agencies who together provide services for dependent children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties.

The local event also celebrated the debut of Coalition’s new visitation areas and resource room recently remodeled by the Junior League’s newest members who undertake a community project to be eligible for membership.

Tracey Moynihan Rosa led the project that converted the visitation rooms into cozy playrooms where separated families come to spend healing time. The large resource room stores clothing, toys, book bags and personal items for foster families and children placed in protective care.

“This project helped us learn about what you do,” Moynihan told coalition staff. “Too often we take for granted what you do. We have learned so much. We want to stay and help.”

Ed McBride, the YMCA’s vice president of operations, praised the Junior League’s volunteerism.

“This is a true example of community-based care,” McBride said, referring to reforms begun more than a decade ago to remove child welfare programs from Tallahassee bureaucracy and place their control in local communities.

Junior League members designed the rooms to help foster interaction between parents and children, Rosa said.

“There are very few places to sit, that was intentional,” she said. “We made the floors very comfortable and put everything down low to encourage parents to get down on the floor and play with their children.”

The remodeling took more than three months. Lumber Liquidators contributed the wood flooring and crews from Franklin Flooring did the installation for free. First State Bank contributed the mural in the reception area.

McBride also paid tribute to the case management staff and child protection officers from Manatee Sheriff’s Office by reading a letter from George Sheldon, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families.

“I know that what you witness on a daily basis is hard to see because it is so heart-breaking,” Sheldon said. “But without you, these children would have no one to protect them. Without you, they would live lives without hope.”