April 11, 2013 10:12:54 AM
Heather Usry sees the faces behind the statistics every day. Six million children. Approximately 3.6 million cases. One child abuse report filed every 10 seconds. Last year, 120 abused children from 40 Mississippi counties sought refuge in West Point at Sally Kate Winters Family Services, where Usry works as outreach coordinator.
Saturday, the community will have the opportunity to give back by participating in the fourth annual "Spring into Action," which begins at 4 p.m. downtown. The highlight of the festivities will be a 5K race for adults and a one-mile fun run for children. Live entertainment and food vendors will also be available.
It is the nonprofit organization's main fundraiser, with proceeds benefiting children placed in emergency shelter onsite, runaways, homeless youth and healthy parenting classes on topics like anger management.
Last year, the group -- primarily funded by grants and private donations -- raised $15,000. They hope to raise $20,000 this year, especially with the West Point/Clay County Arts Council's Art Walk taking place downtown from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Though the majority of the children are from Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, Usry said they have come from as far as Brookhaven seeking shelter. Sally Kate Winters has been operating more than two decades and is one of the few children's shelters that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The Department of Human Services places some of the children with them for up to 45 days while DHS and social workers try to either return the child to the home or find a foster parent. The voluntary runaway youth program provides shelter up to 21 days.
While there will be literature and information available at the race Saturday, Usry said the main purpose of the family-friendly event is to open dialogue and raise awareness of child abuse in a fun way.
"It's kind of an uncomfortable subject to talk about," she said. "It's a problem that isn't just happening on the news, it's happening in our community. It's something most people just don't talk about because they're afraid to get involved. We want people to recognize that it's everyone's responsibility."
Participants in Saturday's events are encouraged to pre-register by Friday, but registration will be available the day of the event also. Entry fees for the 5K will be $30 onsite and $25 for pre-registration. Ages 10 and under participating in the fun run will pay $20 the day of the event and $15 for pre-registration. There will be a $100 cash raffle as well as a chance to win an overnight stay for two at Waverly Waters resort in West Point.
For more information, please call 662-494-0120. The agency can also be found on Facebook at facebook.com/sallykatewinters or on Twitter: @sallykwinterfs.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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