Saturday, April 14. 9:00 a.m. 37*. About 60 members of the ELGA Wellness Team are outside, running or walking 5 kilometers in freezing rain. I am personally wearing a rain poncho and carrying an umbrella, but they’re not doing much good. My umbrella turned inside out almost as soon as I stepped out of my car. The hood of my thin plastic poncho keeps being whipped off by the wind. I love my colleagues; we always have a blast when we’re together. We’re still having fun, but the joviality, enthusiasm, and joy of seeing each other isn’t quite enough to stop a fellow teammate exclaiming “My femurs are cold. Really, my bones are cold!” The wind and our layers of headbands and hats make it difficult to hear each other beyond such exclamations. Frankly, compared to the amazing time we’ve had at past events, this stinks. But we’re going to keep going because we are here for a cause that is important to every one of us. We’re here to raise money and awareness for the Weiss Child Advocacy Center, a local organization that assists child victims of abuse with medical and legal proceedings and provides the community with tools to recognize, report, and prevent abuse. We don’t like our temporary surroundings, but we all know that the children who need the Weiss Child Advocacy Center don’t like their situations either. And there are some big differences between our misfortune and theirs. We signed up for this; they did not. We know that when this race is over, we can go home, take hot showers, put on our PJs, and spend the rest of the day relaxing in the safety and comfort of our homes. The kids we are here to help often don’t know what awaits them on any given day. So we’ll walk. We’ll bear some freezing rain if it means we can help one child stop being a victim of sexual abuse and become a survivor. We’ll run 5 kilometers if it means a child doesn’t suffer the malnutrition that accompanies parental neglect. I’ve given up on my umbrella – it may be broken forever this time, but I don’t care. These are the children who need superheroes. The ELGA Wellness Team are not those heroes – the educators, forensic interviewers, and child and family advocates at the Weiss Center and victims’ advocacy centers around the world are their superheroes. We are here today to help the helpers, to support the supporters, and to raise the money that the Weiss Center needs to do their vital work.

Children living in abusive and negligent situations need special services, not only in order to build a case when prosecution is necessary, but also to heal from traumatic experiences. Young children may not have the language or even the basic emotional understanding to disclose or describe their abuse. Dealing with doctors or police can be scary and overwhelming for adults who do possess the language and understanding to describe crimes and injuries, but children can easily shut down when put in a stressful situation. Even abused and neglected children have an inherent trust in their parents and other close adults and may feel a need to protect their abusers if they are questioned about a situation. This is why it is so important that medical examinations and questioning happen in an environment where the child feels safe. Forensic interviewers meet with the child in a safe, comfortable, one-on-one environment to allow him/her to tell his/her story. If a medical examination is necessary, a doctor or nurse who has received specialized training is present. If a case goes to court, this is a new level of stress and fear. Children are not just small adults; they are not emotionally or intellectually developed enough to stand up to the same type of questioning an adult may have to endure in a courtroom. Court-appointed special advocates (CASA) work with children who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care. These trained volunteers make regular visits with the child, make sure the child knows somebody is looking out for them, and even appear in court on behalf of the child. The children living through these events have to summon superhuman strength, and they need as much support as they can get – they need their Superhero Advocates. I, for one, was extremely proud of the approximately 60 ELGA associates who braved the abysmal weather to show our support for these superheroes. Even non-ELGA participants brought tears to my eyes. In 37* weather, a man was so dedicated to this cause that he ran dressed as The Hulk – wearing only a torn T-shirt and ripped jean shorts. I hope his green body paint did something to help keep him warm. A drum line kept us upbeat as the freezing wind blew small ice particles in our faces. Bystanders offered Jolly Ranchers as we took off from the starting line, doubly sweet in their support. It was wonderful to see such an outpouring of support for this great organization. Just like most of the race attendees, you do not need any special training to help support the Weiss Center – please visit http://www.weissadvocacycenter.org/ to see how you can contribute.

The ELGA Wellness Team is already looking forward to our next event, The Healing Hands Run/Walk on May 12th. Beginning on the Mott Community College Campus at 9:00 a.m., this event is to raise funds for the Genesee County Free Medical Clinic. We would love to see you there as we support another wonderful service to our community!

Click HERE to view the full event photo album.
Guest Blogger – Jennifer Z., Burton Branch Teller
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