The voices of children kicked off Child Abuse Awareness month at the James W. Warren Citizens Center Tuesday night.
â€œSeeing kids singing up there, how can you hurt someone like that?â€ asked Dwight Stone, a former Carolina Panther and the eveningâ€™s keynote speaker.
The Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse organized the reception in order to raise awareness and thank supporters.
Children from St. James and Love Memorial elementary schools sang a collection of patriotic songs to start off the program.
Then Stone, who works as a school resource officer in Charlotte, took the stage.
â€œThinking about a child being abused, itâ€™s just hard for me to believe that, but it happens here in the United States, the land of the free,â€ he said.
Stone talked about his work as a police officer in schools. He encouraged audience members to become involved in the lives of children and to report suspected abuse.
â€œIf I turn my back on that, itâ€™s just like my turning my back on that child,â€ he said.
He also acknowledged the hard work put in by the audience members.
â€œWhat youâ€™re doing is more important than what we do in the football fields,â€ he said.
The audience included employees of the Department of Social Services, members of the Lincoln County Board of Education and Lincoln County Schools and representatives from the court system.
They were all thanked for fighting child abuse and neglect.
â€œThereâ€™s no greater calling than to serve your fellow man,â€ said Kathy Vinzant, director of the coalition.
Vinzantâ€™s voice broke as she specifically thanked coalition volunteers and board members.
â€œThe board members are my support, my family, and I thank them,â€ she said.
Businesses and individuals who financially supported the coalition were also recognized at the reception as were individual volunteers who went the extra mile.
The ceremony ended with an inspirational song and dance performance and a few words from Jane Finger, chairman of the coalition board.
â€œWe have a very challenging year ahead of us,â€ she said. â€œWe want to establish a Child Advocacy Center. Itâ€™s going to take all of us working together, and itâ€™s gong to take a lot of money, and weâ€™re just sure we can do this.â€
The coalition is currently in the first stages of starting a center. The center would provide a space for victimized children to feel safe during the interview process. It would also serve as a place for organizations who deal with child abuse and neglect to work together.
The coalition is also at work on a teen to teen hotline, which would allow teenagers to call in and vent their problems.
The rest of Child Abuse Awareness month is booked with speaking engagements for Vinzant, a Pennies from Heaven Campaign at local churches and a vigil.
The vigil was originally scheduled for April 1, but was canceled due to inclement weather. It has been rescheduled for April 15 and will be held outside the courthouse.
Dwight Stone, a former Carolina Panther and current police officer, spoke at the reception. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by Sarah Grano