Tahlequah Daily Press

August 16, 2013

Task force gives back to area kids

By RENEE FITE
Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — When members of a law enforcement agency or staff of the Department of Human Services are on someone’s doorstep, it is sometimes to help save the life of a child.

Recently, some of those children came to an end-of-summer pool party hosted by the county Multi-Disciplinary Child Abuse and Neglect Team. This is a group of professionals from various organizations and agencies who work in a coordinated manner to ensure an effective response to cases of child abuse and neglect.

MDT Coordinator Leah Moore said the group wanted to use some of the money raised through fundraising projects to do something special for the children they worked with throughout the year.

This was the first time for the team to host this event.

“We wanted the children to do something fun before school starts,” Moore said.

The children were provided with pizza and neon yellow T-shirts with a smiley face on the front and message on the back: “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.”

“If we can do something special for these kids, give them a fun time that they know is just for them, that tells them they matter,” Moore said.

One grandmother who brought three of her grandchildren to the party shared her appreciation for the team members.

“The child advocates have been a lot of help to me; they’ve been good to me and my grandkids,” said Brenda Kusick. “DHS and Court Appointed Special Advocates especially have been more than helpful. The girls know what it’s all about. I don’t know what else [the advocates] could do to be any better.”

Kusick appreciated the invitation to the event.

“I couldn’t keep the kids away when they heard about the pool party. They’re having a great time,” Kusick said.

District Attorney Brian Kuester was watching the kids in the pool while visiting with other team members.

“This event emphasizes that this team is all about the kids, not just staffing cases,” Keuster said.

It’s about mingling with the kids

Team member Angela Mecham appreciated having the opportunity to mingle with the public and families.

“We get attached to these children, and it’s good to see them having fun in a family-friendly environment,” Mecham said. “And it’s good to see success stories. We want to be a positive influence and try to make a difference. We serve the residents of this county and try to give back.”

Also helping with the pool party were Heather Winn, OSU Extension educator, and her mom, Linda Sand, who brought Ross Winn and his cousin, Noah Sand, to swim and play.

 “I’m not a team member, but I had a flyer e-mailed to me and wanted to represent OSU Extension,” Winn said.

“We’re doing the cousin thing this week, so mom and I brought the kids to swim.”

She and her mom volunteered to hand out pizza.

“I learned more about the coalition and the services they provide, from talking to Leah [Moore],” Winn said.

Along with giving the kids a fun evening, the pool party also gives team members an opportunity to get better acquainted.

DHS Child Welfare Investigator Jackie Holland appreciates that MDT brings together different entities to help children who are abused and neglected.

“We can better work together because we have a relationship with each other,” Holland said.

“And this gives kids an opportunity to have fun. Not everybody has the ability to rake their kids swimming, so this is some fun before they go back to school.”

Giving back to the community motivates team member Mark Taylor, of Improving Lives Counseling, to work with the MDT.

“We want to let the children and their families know people still care,” Taylor said.

 He was enjoying seeing the kids have fun, many of them in DHS cases and from a deprived background.

“I’ve been to this pool many times as a kid, then we’d go swim in the creek,” he said.

“It’s therapeutic for children; it gives them a chance to be a kid and have fun. Laughter is definitely therapeutic.”

The team is planning a Family Fun Day at Phoenix Park in October, with live music, and free entertainment and activities for kids and families.

“It’s open to the public, we want to bring families together to participate,” Moore said.

“It’s for kids of all ages.”