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The local, collaborative efforts to bring awareness to child abuse was recognized during the 7th annual West Texas Children's Advocacy Center (WTCAC) banquet held on Tuesday evening, April 6, 2012 at the Nolan County Coliseum.
The theme for the evening was "Together We Can Help Children's Hearts Mend". which was highlighted through the evening's keynote speaker. Jennifer Morris, a business litigation attorney from Dallas, gave a stirring speech to the audience on her personal experience with child abuse and overcoming obstacles to achieve success.
Morris recollected her life as a quiet, shy child who was fearful of her stepfather that hit her and her three sisters. He was involved with drugs and alcohol as a user and dealer, and she recalled a moment as a fifth grader when she found drugs in her parents' bedroom.
Her stepfather's behavior and actions would ruin family gatherings and tangible household items, but Morris noted that, when she was in sixth grade, she had an epiphany following an incident when she stepped in to protect her mother, who was pregnant at the time.
While she was being physically punished, she came to realize that her stepfather had control--but only in that moment. Morris, herself, held onto the fact that she alone dictated her future and the kind of person she would become.
She recalled her reasoning as to why she never spoke up about her abuse, noting that her stepfather told them not to share the family's "dirty laundry". Even while her biological father took steps to help Morris leave her situation, confusion and fear clouded her judgment and kept her silent.
Her survival, said Morris, simply came from hope--kind words from teachers, success in school as a French horn player, and the unconditional love from her grandparents.
"It takes just a little bit of hope," Morris explained, "to do something different."
She presented some statistics about child abuse, like around 30% of abused and neglected children go on to later be abusers. Approximately 80% of abused kids have at least one psychological disorder, and around two-thirds of people involved with drugs were either abused or neglected as kids.
Morris said she was lucky to survive her childhood and through her own experiences can offer hope to those with similar trials. In an effort to motivate the audience, she stated that no matter big or small, the steps taken by others to reach children do in fact make a difference.
While serving as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, Morris incepted "The Little Voice", an initiative that educates children and adults how to recognize and report child abuse. Through a training video, four survivor stories were shared. Even while working on the film, Morris learned about herself and how her past sometimes still affects her today.
Citing the night's theme, Morris said that her heart had mended--proof that, through the efforts of those at the banquet, it can be done through joint endeavors.
The night also provided a chance to look back on the year from the WTCAC perspective with a video presentation. Introduced by Teresa Zarate, Executive Director of the WTCAC, the film showed snapshots of different activities the center takes part in--such as the Family FunFair and the Guns and Hoses basketball game--while recalling news headlines from the past twelve months like missing teen Hailey Dunn and abandoned toddler Angel Flores.
In addition, the staff, board of directors, volunteers, and community members and businesses were recognized for their group efforts to help the WTCAC by Zarate. Amanda Fullwood serves as the Client Case Manager, while Peggy Parrott is the Forensic Interviewer and Michelle Garcia is the Family Advocate.
The WTCAC Board of Directors were also introduced in the evening, who also helped in serving the steak dinner: David McDonald, President; Glynis Gotcher, Vice President; Mark Garcia, Treasurer; Lori Dockery, Secretary; Melinda Moncada, Past President; Jackie Hackfield, Barrett Thomas, Kerrie Blair, Rosa Best, Christi Warner, Richy Womack, Lita McEachern and Norma Torres.
Volunteer awards were given to Joyce Althof for her work with the program, and recognition was given to Luis and Sue Carrillo for their work in preparing the dinner. Buffy Sipe was honored for decorating for the banquet; Mark Hicks was recognized for his work with the video presentation and the Nolan County Coliseum was praised for allowing the WTCAC to use their building.
Donors were also given awards, which were divided into four groups. "Angel" donors were HITS, Sweetwater Jaycees and Roosters, First National Bank of Rotan, Sweetwater Wind #4 LLC, EON Climate and Renewables, Masonic Lodge #571, TDCJ Wallace/Ware Units, and Creative Graphic Solutions. The sole "Heroes" donor was Eaker Family Medicine.
"Mentor" donors were Southwest Canvas, West Texas Rock Resources LLC, Big Country Electric Cooperative, Buck's Steaks and BBQ, Britt and Buffy Sipe, Luis and Sue Carrillo, First Financial Bank Sweetwater and Harp Vending.
"Friends" donors to the WTCAC were Sweetwater Police Association, Gilbert Carreon DDS, Hall Law Firm, Grimmitt Brothers Inc., Roscoe State Bank, Rees & Rees & Fuller, Vickie's Gifts, Bigg's Pizza and Grill and Wilson Motor and Big Country Autoland.
Entertainment was provided throughout the dinner portion of the evening by the Sweetwater Municipal Band. Kyrsten Smith sang throughout the evening, leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance before performing the Star Spangled Banner. Later in the evening, Smith also sang the Martina McBride song "Concrete Angel".
The evening concluded with an auction led by Doug Alexander on a piece of artwork by Nathalie Kelley. The painting, titled "Child's Play", was worked on and completed in the duration of the banquet. The funds raised from the auction will benefit the WTCAC.
Other special thanks from the WTCAC goes to High Sky Children's Ranch, BACA, Wal-Mart, Bubba and Debra Dennis, Highland Heights Methodist Church, Colonial Hill Baptist Church, McDonald's, Sweetwater Reporter, Rotan Advance, KXOX, KVMC, Hackfield's Real Estate, HackiShack, Cate Spencer and Trent Funeral Home, McCoy Funeral Home, City National Bank, Colorado City Lions Club, Rotary Club of Colorado City, Snyder Abstract and Title, First National Bank of Colorado City, 1st National Bank Loraine, Bennett and Associates, C-City Rotary Club, Community Bank of Snyder, E.D. Walton, McDonald Welding, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Brooks, Pickrell Wrecker Service, RICHCO LLC, Sonic Snyder, Southern Electric Inc., Sweetwater Credit Union, Texas Savings Bank Snyder, The Medicine Place, Tindol Insurance Agency, Steve Ford Insurance, Municipal Band, Doug Alexander and Nathalie Kelley.