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Children helping children

Young summer campers raise money to help a metro area agency fight child abuse and neglect
by: MARK SILVERMAN, Aubry Smithson, 9, takes a rest and a drink on the Wahkeena Falls trail in the Columbia Gorge last week. She and fellow Willamette Primary students participated in the SOAR summer camp and are helping to raise funds for child abuse intervention programs at CARES Northwest.

The adage about a village raising a child is well represented in the Willamette community.

More than ever this year, local residents are supporting activities of the summer camp that Willamette Primary School Counselor Mark Silverman has called SOAR since its inception in 1998.

The program is funded through donations from Willamette Primary parents, the West Linn and Riverview Lions clubs and local residents. No tax dollars are used for any program expenses, Silverman said.

This year's focus for the 25 campers in grades one through five is on how families function together to ensure healthy children and lifestyles.

And to get the kids involved in service to their community, all of them are involved in raising funds to support the child abuse intervention programs at CARES Northwest, a nonprofit medical clinic for the evaluation and treatment of child abuse.

Using pedometers, they're counting the number of steps they take as they hike around the region during their camp activities. To raise funds, they're collecting donations for each segment of their walking effort.

Their goal: to take 11,000 steps a day, one for each of last year's victims of child abuse or neglect.

Silverman said he was amazed the first time he heard the statistics: In 2005 in Oregon alone, there were more than 55,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those, more than 11,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect, including 18 who died.

Families in the middle of an economic downturn are more likely to be challenged when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships, Silverman said, although he says that many of the SOAR families this year are very caring and close-knit. His mission, then, is to help the kids raise money to support CARES Northwest as well as support the students' healthy family relationships.

'If we're going to help kids who have experienced child abuse,' Silverman said, 'then we need to write some stories about what makes (our) families work - the antidote to child abuse.'

Daily SOAR field trips take the kids daily to places that most have never seen such as Jackson Bottoms Wetlands, Forest Park, Wahkeena Falls in the Gorge, Sauvie Island, Trillium Lake and Timberline on Mount Hood, the CREST environmental center, and a climbing gymnasium. They also spent a week in an organized soccer camp.

In the midst of those enriching experiences, SOAR campers are writing about a positive facet of their family life.

'I want each of my kids to tell the story they want us to hear about their family,' Silverman said.

Not having a father by his side left an empty hole in the life of one of Silverman's campers.

'My dad worked until midnight every night closing a restaurant,' the young boy wrote to Silverman.

When the father awakened each day, his children were at school, and when they came home he was at work. The only way to visit with dad was to travel to the restaurant and purchase food - an expense the economically challenged family could ill afford.

Realizing that the long and late hours were taxing his relationship with everyone in the family, the man changed jobs and returned to the family circle.

'We can see him every day, and the family was happy about it,' the young boy wrote after his dad changed jobs.

Another camper wrote about how family members communicate with one another and share everything, including joys and sorrows.

'This is the best way to get our family united,' the child wrote. 'When somebody is hurt, everybody comes and helps the one that is hurt, so we get better at communication and contact.'

'This is a story about the antidote to child abuse,' Silverman said.

And that's what the SOAR fund-raising effort is all about: helping CARES Northwest fight child abuse and neglect.

Children helping children.