Hoping blue will raise awareness, prevent abuse

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Hundreds of people have called to ask what is up with the blue trees in front of our office on Pioneer Parkway.

OK, so I'm exaggerating a little. A couple people have asked me. But with the amount of traffic we get through here every day, there has to be hundreds of people curious about why there are four trees wrapped completely in blue ribbons standing in front of the AdCo Advertising building at 1302 W. Pioneer Parkway.

If we'd had our way, there'd be many more trees all up and down the Parkway wrapped in blue ribbon. None of the other businesses around here have yet followed suit, even though it's for a good cause. We still hope they will.

We at The Peorian and its parent company AdCo Advertising decorated the trees and planted them to draw attention to the fact April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. The message behind the ribbons is to raise awareness and support families and strengthen communities to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Who could not support a positive message like that?   

"Child Abuse Awareness Month is something that's important to everyone at The Peorian and AdCo Advertising," said Julie Russell, publisher of The Peorian and president of AdCo Advertising Agency. "Raising awareness begins when you get people talking and hopefully seeing these trees will do just that."

Adams Outdoor Advertising is helping us, donating space on a billboard on Pioneer Parkway. The message is simple: "Raising Awareness for Child Abuse Prevention One Bright Blue Tree at a Time."

Child Abuse Awareness Month is not new. This is the 30th year April has been designated Child Abuse Awareness Month. It's been around since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan declared it so by presidential proclamation. Every president since has repeated the proclamation, including President Obama, who issued a proclamation just yesterday (April 2). "Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up with the promise and protection of a loving family.  This month, we recommit to that vision, and to providing care, stability, and a brighter future for our sons and daughters," President Obama said in his proclamation.

It's was before then that teachers, medical personnel and other professionals have become required by law to report suspected abuse to authorities.

 The Blue Ribbon Campaign, which is what we're doing at The Peorian and AdCo, began in 1989 when a Virginia woman tied a blue ribbon on the antenna of her car to remember a grandson who died a victim of child abuse. The campaign has caught on, perhaps not as quickly as the pink ribbon campaign we all are familiar with, but you are likely to see blue ribbons other places besides in front of 1302 W. Pioneer Parkway.

Yet, it is obvious all the awareness in the world probably wouldn't bring an end to child abuse. In 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are available, nearly 700,000 children were victims of child abuse in the United States; 1,560 of them died, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, citing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In my 30-plus years as a reporter/editor for a couple different central Illinois newspapers I had to cover some pretty heinous crimes. I don't think any was as difficult as the child abuse stories, the worst being the Alan Madden case in Quincy in 1981. I covered it for the Galesburg Register-Mail because it was in Galesburg that Alan was first taken from his mother and step-father because of abuse. He later was returned to his mother after they'd moved to Quincy.

In January 1981 Alan died after prolonged abuse, mostly from his step-father who used martial arts kicks on the boy.

Alan Madden was 5 years old when he died. There are things about that case — things I know but will not repeat here — that physically sickened me because that death could have been prevented.

Much more recently the grandson of a good friend of mine died from abuse while living with her mother and her mother's boyfriend in Bloomington-Normal. The horror  that my friend went through, including the "if only" and "what if" questions, during that time was gut wrenching.

Anyway, that's what is behind the blue trees in our front yard. Pretty cool, aren't they? It's just too bad they aren't there for a happier reason.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).