Vigil brings needed attention to tragedy of child abuse, neglect

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April has been a busy month for several local agencies.

And on Tuesday, the month's activities culminated with the annual Putnam County Child Abuse Prevention Candlelight Vigil at Gobin United Methodist Church in Greencastle.

Several people gathered in the church sanctuary Tuesday evening in remembrance of the 57 Indiana children who died last year as a result of child abuse or neglect.

"We hope this simple message will be spread," Putnam County Youth Development Commission Executive Director Pam Turner said as she opened the festivities.

Turner welcomed those in attendance Tuesday and was followed by a responsorial verse, led by Putnam County Family Support Services Director Cari Cox.

As those in attendance flocked to the center of the sanctuary to light a candle in remembrance of the children, the Greencastle String School entertained, playing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Lightly Row," and "Song of the Wind." The string group is under the direction of Allison Edberg.

Following the lighting of the candles, Cox announced Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Director Patti Harmless had received the 2006 Bessie Rector Award.

Each year, the PCFSS Board of Directors accepts nominations from the community for the award. Rector was a founder of the organization.

"She contributed significantly to early prevention efforts in Putnam County," Cox said of Rector.

Cox said the award is given to a community member who has made continuing contributions to prevent child abuse and neglect.

"This award is not just mine, but my volunteers'," Harmless said. "It means a lot to me because of Bessie Rector. I always admired Bessie.

"This is quite an honor. I feel very privileged to have been nominated."

"She has been instrumental in ensuring that further abuse or neglect does not occur," Cox said. "And she has been creative in finding solutions for families and has a wealth of information and resources to help alleviate the hardships that many families face."

Harmless took the position of CASA Director in 1998 after the program initially struggled. The program requires volunteers to complete 30 hours of training, and in the last six years, Turner said Harmless has recruited more than 40 new volunteers.

Harmless moved to Putnam County after graduating from Alabama with a degree in social work. She married Tony Harmless, and the couple have three children, Andrew, Mark and Anna.

In addition, Harmless is a former director of the P.I.E. Coalition, and a former assistant director of the Putnam County Mental Health Association.

Indiana Dept. of Child Services Putnam County Office Director Barbara South closed Tuesday's program, pleading with the crowd that more volunteers are needed.

"We really need all of you," South said.

The event was sponsored by Family Support Services, Putnam County Department of Child Services, Youth Development Commission, the Mental Health Association, and the Johnson Nichols Health Clinic.

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