Tying Blankets to Warm Hearts and Bodies

“Ties That Bind” was the theme of our Nov. 17 program at Jowonio School in Syracuse. We made 16 fleece blankets that were donated to the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending child abuse through intervention and education.

When persons entered the meeting room at Jowonio, four sets of tables had been set up — each with double plush fleece fabric ready to make into blankets by cutting and tying them around the edges. Lovely coordinated fabric pieces to make the blankets had been purchased, prepared, and marked for cutting and tying by Cindy Rahrle, WTB Vice President, and her friends, Linda Sheen and Patti Godfrey.

Two tables also had been set up for delicious finger foods which accumulated over the first hour of the meeting.

The meeting started at 2:00 pm, changed so there would be adequate time to do the project of making blankets.

At 2:10, Barbara Bova, WTB President welcomed the 10 or so women who were in attendance early and welcomed the speaker for the day representing the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center for which we were making the blankets.

Lauren Penizotto, an outreach and education specialist at McMahon Ryan, was introduced and began sharing the story of McMahon Ryan; other women continued to come into the room during her comments. About the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center:

The Center serves children who are under 18 years of age who have been sexually and/or severely physically abused. The Center was founded to give coordinated services and support to children dealing with sexual or severe physical abuse. The Center has five Victim Advocates.

Support and understanding for a child abused begins when the child walks into the Center. The entrance room is child friendly, lovely, and bright. He/she is greeted by someone from Child Protective or Law Enforcement and a Victim Advocate assigned to him or her. The Victim Advocate remains with that child throughout the entire process, is available to help support non-offending family members, makes follow up phone calls, and attends legal and court proceedings.

The initial interview occurs in a room with a forensic interviewer. They are trained so as to not further traumatize the child. Persons from other agencies who will be involved with the case, such as other members from Law Enforcement and Child Protective Service and an Assistant District Attorney, are able to watch the interview in a separate viewing room. This makes it unnecessary for each agency to conduct its own separate interview.

Each child is given a blanket and a stuffed animal at the end of the first visit. Families and children also have access as needed to food, bedding, clothing, etc.

McMahon Ryan also has auxiliary staff from the Syracuse City Police Abused Persons Unit, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department Abused Persons Unit, NY State Police, Onondaga County Child Protective Services, Mental Health Therapists (Vera House staff), the CARE (Child Abuse Referral and Evaluation) Program through Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant District Attorney on site. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Syracuse City Police Department, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, and the New York State Trooper on site, are assigned based on the child’s residence or place of victimization.

The Coordinator of the Child Fatality Review Team is involved should a fatality be involved.

Last year the Center served 1,541 children in Onondaga County. This was a higher number than in previous years. The reason for this is not clear, but some of the increase in disclosures might be due to better education about the subject. Ms. Penizotto along with four other outreach and education specialists provide education programs and trainings to both children and adults in the community. They are now in over 65 schools within Onondaga County. Parents of the children in these schools receive letters stating that the programs will be given in their child’s classroom.

McMahon Ryan statistics: More than 67% of child victims were less than 12 years old. About 95% have been abused by someone they knew. Data shows that about one in six boys and one in four girls are abused.

The Center also has two Anti-trafficking Advocates on site. The definition of exploitation is the buying or selling of any sex act with a child (under the age of 18) where there is an exchange of something of value. Human trafficking is when a third party benefits from this exchange.

Many people volunteer at the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center. They play many important roles, such as preparing materials and packets for education, staffing the desk, and participating in fundraisers, etc.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. A Go Blue 4 Kids breakfast will be held at the beginning of the month, with a keynote speaker to help support the work of the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center. Volunteers are very involved in this effort. At the end of the month, there will be a Pinwheel Ball where tables can be purchased by agencies or persons, and a Step Up 4 Kids 5K and kids fun run. Pinwheels, symbols of a happy healthy childhood, are sold. The community has become very involved in the work of the agency and the pinwheel symbol. At Onondaga Community College a Pinwheel Garden is created every April.

Ms. Lauren Penizotto took a number of questions before she had to leave.

By the time Lauren Penizotto left, about 22 women were in attendance and working on knotting the blankets. Barbara Bova, President of WTB, shared a few thoughts about our theme for the year. We have been talking about “The Other” and ourselves as “The Other.” We are all in this together with the “ties that bind” us. All of us go through hard times, illness, heartbreak, loss, and death. We all experience these things as long as we live. Today we make blankets for children going through difficult, unspeakable stress. We tie them to us, by making these blankets.

Ann Port read the WTB Mission Statement and Nancy Waterbury read the WTB Safe Place Declaration. Jennifer Roberts Crittenden talked about the WTB Book Club. She brought with her a box full of books the group has used in prior group discussions and talked about the highlights of each. Numbers of women took a book home to read that seemed of interest.

Linda Sheen and Patti Godfrey took leadership for teaching women how to do the lovely knotting to secure the top and bottom of the fabrics to each other. Cindy’s friend Nancy Waterbury and her family helped us so much as well.

Women were encouraged to talk and socialize with each other as they knotted and also to discuss the ideas the group has been discussing this year. We all have so much in common and come together as women and community members as we symbolically and literally tie ourselves to children and families in the community with various kinds of needs.

The work on the blankets continued throughout the afternoon, as women worked, talked, and shared the finger foods and beverages provided.

Work on 16 blankets was completed on Sunday afternoon. They were delivered on Monday morning to the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center. The agency was very pleased with the blankets as they were soft, colorful, and perfect for gifting to the children they serve.

Our Dec. 15 meeting will focus on “Holiday Traditions.” It will be hosted by our co-founder Betsy Wiggins at her home on 305 Carleton Drive, off E. Genesee St., Syracuse.