ENID, Okla. — Around 50 people gathered on the Garfield County Court House lawn Thursday evening for the presentation of 248 wooden children.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and every year since 2013, Garfield County Child Advocacy Council decks the lawn outside the courthouse with the wooden children.
Each one represents a confirmed case of child abuse in the county, said GCCAC Executive Director Dustin Albright.
“It’s heartwarming to see people care about this,” Albright said about seeing the crowd of city officials, GCCAC employees and board members and local residents, mostly dressed in blue, the color that shows support for child abuse prevention efforts.
Mayor George Pankonin, who sponsored two of the wooden children on display, said during the display seeing all the faces there made him think of how big the heart of Enid, and the wooden children display is an opportunity to “work through a problem we know is there.”
“Will we ever achieve 100%? I don’t know,” Pankonin said, “but the goal ought to be zero children abused.”
With Diana Hernandez, GCCAC board member and communications assistant for the city of Enid, holding the microphone, the mayor then proclaimed that April 2021 is Child Abuse Prevention Month in Enid, saying all children are entitled to be loved, cared for and nurtured, to feel secure and to be free from all types of abuse and neglect.
Pankonin said it’s every adult’s responsibility to protect children and for residents to become aware of child maltreatment prevention, and he called upon all residents and groups, including community agencies, faith groups, medical facilities and businesses, to increase their participation in the city’s efforts to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen the community.
Randy Long, chair of the GCCAC Board, then introduced fellow employees and board members before introducing Nerum Karben, another board member and the public relations committee chair, who thanked all the sponsors that helped with the wooden children.
Albright, a retired lieutenant from the Enid Police Department, said his purpose on Earth is to protect the children.
He spent 10 of his 23 years with EPD investigating physical and sexual abuse of children and online exploitation before joining GCCAC in September 2020.
“It’s kind of like Chris Hansen — I got to do some of that cool stuff,” Albright said. “Doesn’t change the dirtiness that we see, and I only hope, in my new position, that I can clean up a lot of that so that other people don’t have to see it and other people don’t have to investigate it.”
He thanked his staff, board members, the city of Enid and those in the court appointed special advocate, or CASA, program, which is a volunteer position with GCCAC that helps be the voice of children in court.
Albright said the point of the wooden children display is to bring awareness so people don’t forget the children.
“People see these kids, these faces — they’re out here in the weather all month,” Albright said, “and know that there are children that are really out in the storm in their own lives.”