More than 200 people attended the ninth annual Walk-A-Mile-For-A-Child walk and 5K run on Saturday at Academy Square.
Last year’s event was called off because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Organizer Dala Johnson was excited to have the event return and said the volunteers with Dala’s Blue Angels worked hard to make it better than ever.
“It hurt a lot,” Johnson said of last year’s cancellation. “I’m just so glad we’re able to do it this year and it’s all for a good cause. We’ve really made it a big deal this year.”
One-hundred and sixty people signed up for the walk and 35 runners signed up for the 5K. Another 35 to 40 volunteers were on hand to help organize the event, which drew support from a wide range of community organizations. The Strawberry Festival Court took part in the walk, as did several Strawberrians, the Enchanted Willow Dancers, the Scalawags Robotics Team, and Caesar, the No-Drama-Llama. Singer James Wright also performed.
The event was held at the gazebo in Academy Square on a chilly but clear spring morning.
Johnson was thrilled with the turnout, which approached the highest numbers the event has drawn.
“I think with COVID, this is a great year,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s energized, people are excited. It’s time for us to get out and move on.”
The event is a fundraiser for Dala’s Blue Angels, which in turn supports three organizations that serve children: the ABC House, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Family Tree Relief Nursery. Johnson presented ABC House Executive Director Jenny Gilmore-Robinson with a check for $10,000 for that organization. Johnson said CASA would receive a $5,000 check and the Family Tree Relief Nursery would receive $1,500 to $2,000, based on the final tally of funds received.
Gilmore-Robinson was among the speakers at the event. She noted that there are many things people disagree about, but preventing child abuse is something everyone can support.
“The thing I think we can all agree on is that kids deserve to be safe and protected. And as the grownups, it’s our job to do something about that. It’s our job. It’s not the kids’ job to protect themselves. It’s our job to take care of them, and we can do that if we work together,” Robinson said.
She then challenged those in attendance to take three steps to help prevent child abuse and neglect:
- Get involved, either through serving with one of the many community organizations which serve children or through your own individual efforts supporting parents and families.
- Get educated about abuse and neglect. Everyone can learn to recognize the signs of child abuse and know what to do when we see them.
- If you have a concern, please call and make a report.
Gilmore-Robinson said she knows this is the most difficult step.
“I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary because we don’t know what’s on the other side of that phone call. The question always comes up, what if I’m wrong?,” Gilmore-Robinson said. ““But think about this: what if you’re right? So many child abuse cases go unreported which means kids are facing all of this by themselves, and we can do something about that.”
Jim Egan, the chief judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals, was the featured speaker at the event, which was dedicated to the memory of Asher Benjamin Carter, a 1-year-old Lebanon child who died in February 2019. Caregiver Amber Marie Scott has been sentenced to six years in prison on a charge of second-degree manslaughter in that case.
“As the chief judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals I cannot comment on any of the facts or the law on this case as it continues to wind its way through the judiciary other than to say what both the defense and the prosecutors agree with, that Asher’s death was a tragic event and that all of us wish it had never occurred,” Egan said.
He proceeded to speak about the events of the past year and the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the judicial system and the efforts that have been made to continue to serve the community.
Egan praised the efforts in Linn County to move trials from the courthouse to the Linn County Fair & Expo Center where social distancing requirements could be met. He said Judge Tom McHill, the Linn County Board of Commissioners, the district attorney’s office and the Linn County Sheriff’s Office worked quickly to get that system in place, acting much more efficiently than many other jurisdictions.
But he said some negative impacts were unavoidable. Unfortunately, some of these impacts were in the area of child protection.
“There were fewer reports of child abuse for a period of time because of the pandemic, because mandatory reporters weren’t observing children, but what we observed was that the severity of the incidents that were finally reported was much worse,” Egan said.
He encouraged everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
“As the chief of the Oregon Court of Appeals I can tell you that once we reach widespread immunity we will return to face-to-face arguments in the Court of Appeals, courts will return to normal, our mandatory reporters will be catching cases sooner and we will increase our vigilance and decrease the severity of incidents,” Egan said.