Child abuse awareness: Penn State York students pledge not to forget

Jessica Popp, 24 of Baltimore joins fellow Penn State York students from the Council on Family Relations (PSY-CFR) Club, and members of other human development and family studies (HD FS) classes as they take part in the seventh annual candlelight vigil for child abuse awareness, Thursday, April 5, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

When it comes to child abuse, students of Penn State York are committed to making sure it's an issue that's not forgotten.

Junior Rayvonne Rucker, an organizer of the campus' annual child abuse awareness vigil, said it's an ongoing issue affecting a vulnerable population, and there are ways to be more proactive in addressing it.

"We can do more to facilitate the process," she said.

Vigil: Held Thursday, April 5, this year's vigil was the seventh. It began as a one-time event, but became a yearly gathering after news of former Penn State football coach and now-convicted rapist Jerry Sandusky came out in 2011.

"It's about bringing awareness as a remembrance," Rucker said.

Rucker, who organized the vigil with fellow junior Angelymar Torres, has her own reasons for getting involved.

"Children are important to me," said Rucker, who hopes to become a counselor for mistreated children. She currently works at Small Steps Day Care in York Township.

She and Torres decided to focus on a single issue at the event this year to help inform students about how suddenly abuse can occur.

Shaken baby syndrome: Before the vigil, students watched a documentary that featured the story of a 1-year-old named Elijah, who was shaken to death by his father.

They learned that 70 percent of those who cause shaken-baby syndrome in children are parents — and 65 percent are male. Shaking can affect children up to 4 years old and sometimes it takes as little as 10 seconds, Rucker said.

"People aren't really aware of the effects of child abuse in general," she said, and shaken baby syndrome shows how easily they can act on it.

After watching, students sat in the school's Main Classroom Building conference center creating paper pinwheels to show support for children who have suffered abuse.

Sophomore Jalena Young said it also was a chance to incorporate what they learned from the documentary.

One student's pinwheel listed methods of calming a child safely: "Cuddle, bring your heart rate down, story time, calm your body, change your environment."

Another wrote encouraging mantras, "We believe you, stay positive, just breathe."

Junior Jessica Popp said it's easy for parents to be overwhelmed with anger. "They lose their senses in a second," she said.

Penn State York student Shayla Jones, left, 19 of Red Lion, lights candles for fellow students during the seventh annual candlelight vigil for child abuse awareness, Thursday, April 5, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Young and Popp are first-time participants in the vigil, but as human development students, they are familiar with the subject matter.

For Young, it's important to be involved in an event such as this to get the message out there.

"A lot of people don't realize that little things can be child abuse," she said.

Pledge: Dozens of human development and family studies students, members of the Council on Family Relations Club and attendees of the school's weekly Coffee Hour came for the vigil, which takes place during Child Abuse Awareness Month.

They lined the halls holding candles and reciting a pledge to remember to fight for the rights of children and take responsibility for their actions.

The pledge reads:

"I believe that every child has the right to grow up free from the shadow of abuse. I believe that the responsibility to protect children rests solely in adult hands. I believe that, as adults, we must remain ever vigilant and dedicate no less than the best of ourselves to that purpose."

"To all the victims of abuse, male and female, adult and child, known and unknown: I pledge to educate myself about the realities of child abuse; I pledge to give voice and report any and all suspicions; I pledge to cast a light in the darkness by doing the right thing for the first time — every time."