Dozens of children at St. Gregory's School braved a chill April morning Friday during a prayer service dedicated to — well, dedicated to them.
Titled Go Blue for Missouri's Kids, the half-hour ceremony was part of a statewide awareness initiative emphasizing the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect.
The campaign uses blue as a symbolic color representing each child's right to live a secure, safe life.
It was an appropriate hue for Friday's event during which children stuck shiny blue pinwheels into the ground beneath a cloudless blue sky.
The pinwheels, which spun gaily in the cold, westerly breeze, were also symbolic, and according to eighth-grade teacher Jenni Halley, whose religion class organized the ceremony, stood for "hope, health and happiness for all children."
St. Gregory's Principal Susan Martin said the students got the idea for the prayer service after realizing that a number of the school's parents, as well as several St. Gregory Barbarigo parishioners, work either for the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services or are professionals within the juvenile justice system.
"We're a school, and so we are about celebrating children," Martin said.
"We wanted to honor these people — to make them a part of our prayer service and to bless them."
State children's services workers Victoria Lager, Jennifer Roderick, Roxann Powell-Brown and Lauren King received special recognition during the service, as did juvenile officers Kent Lager, Andy Ross and Rick Bradley; probation officer Tom Seipel; and Presiding Circuit Judge Roger Prokes.
Bradley, one of five juvenile officers assigned to Nodaway County, said child abuse is a reality in the Maryville area, and that at any given time 25 or 30 youngsters are living apart from their parents after having been removed from dangerous or threatening home environments.
He urged anyone who suspects that a child is being battered or abused to contact authorities immediately, adding that "reasonable suspicion" is the only standard necessary to justify such a report.
"We prefer to err on the side of kids' safety," he said.
After the pinwheels were set in place, Fr. Martin De Meulenaere, pastor of St. Gregory's Barbarigo Catholic Church, which operates the parish school, offered a brief prayer for those who work on behalf of abused children and for the children themselves.
With arms spread, De Meulenaere asked God to help those capable of affecting a child's welfare to "do what it takes to be kind and loving."
Friday's event was the culmination of a pre-school through eighth-grade program at St. Gregory's called Circle of Grace.
The curriculum is tailored for each grade level and focuses on a young person's need to live in safe environment. Materials written for the two- to four-lesson course spell out what steps children should take when threatened by physical, psychological or sexual abuse.
Page 2 of 2 - Martin said the object of Circle of Grace is not to burden children with fear or worry, but to explain the reality that some youngsters "are not in safe place," even though one's "circle of grace" — defined as a divine sphere of personal security — should be inviolable.
According to a brochure about the program, the curriculum is designed teach "children and young people to identify uncomfortable situations long before inappropriate touch may occur" and to seek help from a "trusted adult."
The Go Blue for Missouri's Kids service coincided the final day of St. Gregory's School's "Week of the Young Child," a related awareness effort underscoring the importance of the years immediately following infancy and preceding grade school.
Throughout last week preschoolers in classes taught by Linda Kreps, Jenny Renshaw, Amy Burch and Jill Freed took part in various activities, including dress-up days and a petting zoo set up at the school Friday afternoon.