As a way to "celebrate the efforts to end child abuse", the 6th Annual Child Abuse Awareness Banquet was held on Tuesday evening, April 5, at the Nolan County Coliseum Annex, sponsored by the West Texas Children's Advocacy Center (WTCAC).
Peggy Parrott with the WTCAC led a presentation honoring the late Amy Rainey, who was instrumental in setting up the Angel Tree program eight years ago. A spinoff of the Salvation Army outreach with the same moniker, children who receive services from the Advocacy Center receive Christmas gifts from citizens within the community.
Parents are informed of the program and children are anonymously recognized through a number and gender with two angels on a Christmas tree. One angel lists items the kids need — like clothes, while the other angel states something the child wants, like a Spiderman or Disney princess toy.
Community members then shop for the items, almost like the child is one of their own. The Advocacy Center then ensures that the gifts are equally divided, especially among families with numerous children. The families will come to pick up the presents, with special guests like Santa sometimes making an appearance. If the families cannot get the gifts, the WTCAC staff also delivers the presents.
Parrott shared with the audience Amy's excitement of getting the trees ready each year, recollecting one year when the K-Mart pharmacy was transformed to a gingerbread house and the angels were replaced with gingerbread men. Amy left a legacy of providing for those who are in need and even after her time at K-Mart, she still involved herself with the project.
"I am truly amazed and humbled," Amy's brother in Virginia said in a family statement. He mentioned that even at an early age, Amy would do anything for anyone and her compassion led to her support of the Angel Tree campaign. As a posthumous honor, the project would now be known as "Amy's Angel Tree".
Instead of the annual guest speaker, Teresa Zarate with the WTCAC introduced a video presentation. The film gave a brief tour of the building along with snapshots from activities the WTCAC takes part in. Audio clips of past team members and even those who have been helped and impacted by the program were heard as well.
The Masonic Lodge also offered a presentation by Shane Tomlin. He presented Zarate with a check for $5,000, with the funds coming from the recent dinner and silent auction sponsored by the Masons.
The other WTCAC staff members were introduced, including Amanda Fullwood as the Client Case Manager and Ericka Dowds as the Family Advocate. Parrott is the Forensic Interviewer, while Zarate is the Executive Director. Also introduced were the current WTCAC Board of Directors: Melinda Moncada, President; David McDonald, Vice President; Glynis Gotcher, Treasurer; Lori Dockery, Secretary; Jackie Hackfeld, Member at Large; Richy Womack; Trey Keith; Kerrie Bullard; Mark Garcia; Norma Torres; Rosa Best; and Christi Warner.
Awards were presented to a slew of individuals, including last year's board of directors: Cathy Rainey, Ann Reed, Sue Carrillo, Richy Womack, Melinda Moncada, Jackie Hackfeld and Glynis Gotcher. Special awards and recognition were presented to Joyce Althof for sending birthday cards to each victim, Buffy Sipe for decorating the banquet with the theme of "When I Grow Up", Russ Petty and Creative Graphics Solutions (CGS) for the banner at the banquet, Highland Heights Methodist Church for the donation of gift bags to the center and Robert McReynolds for his help during the Round-Up.
Plaques were also awarded to all Angel Sponsors, the highest donor achievement. They include: HITS, Masonic Lodge #571, Shane and Dee Dee Smith, Sweetwater Steel, Sweetwater Jaycees and Roosters, Sweetwater Police Patrol Association, TDCJ Wallace/Ware Units, Buck's Steaks & BBQ, EON Climate and Renewables, Suddenlink and Aaron's.
A steak dinner with mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and cobbler was prepared by Luis and Sue Carrillo and served by the current Board of Directors of the WTCAC. Another perk of the evening was the auctioning off of a painting that was actually completed during the banquet, which was purchased by Jim McKenzie for $250.
Those in attendance were also consistently entertained throughout the night. Olivia Madden opened with the National Anthem, while the Sweetwater Municipal Band provided music during the meal. Shi Dowds performed the Martina McBride song "Concrete Angel", appropriately fitting for the event, and the banquet concluded with two musical acts. Beth Oliver sang "Our Song" by Taylor Swift, while Lance Richburg played guitar and sang two songs.
Other donors to the WTCAC include "Heroes": J.R. Fuller Foods and Dr. Robert Eaker, M.D. Family Practice; "Mentors": Big Country Electric, Rolling Plains Rural Health Clinic, Luis and Sue Carrillo, Britt and Buffy Sipe, Hall Law Firm, Texas Rock Resources, and Grimmett Brothers; and "Friends": Gilbert Carreon, D.D.S., Vicki's Gifts, Texas National Bank, Law Offices of John S. Young, P.C., Kiwanis Club of Colorado City, Law Office of Peter Lopez, Roscoe State Bank, T&R Oil Field, Southwest Canvas, Sweetwater Regional Federal Credit Union, Zollie Steakley, P.L.L.C., Attorney Mike Brown, and First Financial Bank.