ONTARIO — A symbol of childhood is popping up in makeshift gardens around Ontario, as well as throughout the nation, this month. These gardens comprise blue and silver pinwheels, “the official symbol for child abuse prevention in the U.S.,” according to information posted on Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery’s website. The Relief Nursery is a local nonprofit focused on preventing child abuse.
Because “the pinwheel signifies a time – our early childhood – when we should be completely innocent and carefree, feeling safe and secure and ready to learn and grow,” reads a statement on the site.
In conjunction with April being national Child Abuse Prevention Month, the whimsical gardens are a call to action for citizens to do what they can to help support the nation’s youth.
Child abuse and neglect affects more than 1 million children every year, according to information on Prevent Child Abuse America’s website.
And Malheur County is not impervious to it. According to information from Department of Human Services, in 2014 there were 45 cases of neglect, five cases of physical abuse, two cases of sexual abuse as well as 244 cases that were marked other. In Oregon “other” can include parent/family issues, parent drug abuse, parent alcohol abuse, inadequate housing, inability to cope, incarceration of parent, death of parent, parental problems with child, child’s behavior, child’s disability, child drug abuse, child alcohol abuse and abandonment.
“For the past four years, our goal has been to blanket our community with these pinwheels, showing children that we are committed to their safety and wellbeing and showing visitors that our entire community is dedicated to child abuse prevention,” wrote
Kathie Collins, executive director of the Relief Nursery, in an email.
This year’s gardens reach many areas of the city. There are pinwheels at Ontario City Hall, Smith’s Pack & Ship, Head Start, Malheur Federal Credit Union, Norco, Valley Family Health Care and numerous private residences.
There is also a pinwheel garden in front of the Relief Nursery, on Southeast Sixth Street.
The Relief Nursery was able to purchase the pinwheels through funding from the Ford Family Foundation as part of its Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention campaign in Malheur County, according to Collins.
In turn, in order to help the nonprofit spread awareness about child abuse prevention, local businesses and residents help the pinwheel gardens spring up either by donating funds for the nursery to expand its garden or by “growing” their own pinwheel gardens.
Every donation is quickly adding up.
“We have sold nearly 1,500 pinwheels this year at $1 each,” wrote Collins.
City of Ontario staff wanted their own garden at City Hall to support the cause.
When she was approached by Collins about the pinwheel project, City Clerk Tori Barnett said she sent an email to staff to ask if they’d like to participate.
By the end of the day, Barnett said, staff members had contributed $260, which included a $100 donation from an individual who didn’t want to be named.
On Wednesday, she said “a couple of us staked them out in the ground.”
Of pitching in to help child abuse prevention, Barnett said, “We’re pretty darned proud of it.”
High winds on Saturday uprooted the pinwheels at City Hall.
City officials tried to save them, Mayor Ron Verini said in a phone interview on Saturday. But pinwheels were “everywhere,” when he got to City Hall to look into the situation. “We will try to salvage as many as we can and put them up Monday,” or whenever weather permits, he said.
Another garden popped up Thursday at Smith’s Pack and Ship, and as of Saturday evening, it was still in tact.
When the store’s owners were approached about donating $40, the same amount as they did last year, Janean Erlebach, co-owner quickly agreed to do it again.
“Because I believe in the awareness for child abuse,” she said.
And it is raising awareness, because some of the customers have asked about it, Erlebach said, giving her the opportunity to spread the message.
In addition to the pinwheel gardens, the nonprofit will be hosting its ninth annual Relief Run Color Blast on April 21. This event raises money for the nonprofit’s general operations, but also raises awareness about child abuse and neglect, according to information from the Relief Nursery.
Certified since July 2010, Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery “is the only program in Malheur County providing therapeutic classrooms, parenting education services, and family support targeted at protecting young children at significant risk for abuse and neglect,” wrote Collins. “Our unique combination of services is valued by the Oregon State Legislature, from whom we receive about 48% of our funding annually. … Nearly 30% of the revenue in our most recent annual budget was from private foundations, with about $87,000 coming from the local community – in the form of cash donations and support for our fundraisers, including the sale of pinwheels.”