By Johnny Jackson
More than 100 students took turns planting the plastic pinwheels in the lawn of The McDonough Square.
The students -- from East Lake Elementary School and Union Grove Middle School -- made quick work of their task, which carries a heavy symbolism.
"This symbolizes, for the community, that child abuse does exist," said Kim Groves, president of Prevent Child Abuse Henry County, which organized Friday's eighth annual tribute to abused children, and the people who work to prevent abuse.
"Today, is all about awareness for the community," Groves continued, "and recognizing those who spend tireless hours working to prevent abuse and working with children that have been abused."
Groves said each of the 2,239 multi-colored pinwheels used Friday represented a reported case of child abuse in Henry County during 2009. The number exceeds last year's count of 2,086.
Ten-year-old Tyler Dodge, and others in East Lake's Junior BETA Club, were asked to help plant the pinwheels and take back lessons they learned during the experience.
"I feel kind of bad that there are so many child abuse cases," said Dodge, looking out onto the clusters of pinwheels. "We should just tell people to be aware of it."
"I think it's a very good project," added Vianca Gonzalez, a member of Union Grove's Peer Ambassadors Program. The 13-year-old believes child abuse can be a form of bullying that students and adults can both help prevent.
Friday's pinwheel display, Gonzalez said, may make a difference in raising public awareness of child abuse and bullying. "Hopefully, they [passers-by] will know that bullying is a bad thing, and they can stop it," she said. "They can try to get the news to the bullies, and make them stop."
The effects of domestic abuse and bullying in the home reach far beyond the adults involved, added Jill Holder, executive director of A Friend's House, Henry County's emergency shelter for children in crisis.
"We're seeing a lot more children that are coming to A Friend's House, who have experienced domestic violence in the home," Holder said. "And they're angry. It takes a while to teach them different ways to handle their feelings, fears, and relationships."
The increase in reported child abuse cases, though somewhat expected, is a bitter pill to ingest, according to Robin Jones, program coordinator for Prevention Child Abuse Henry County.
"It's always been connected somewhat with the growth in Henry County, but now I think it's more the stress with the economy and people losing their jobs," Jones said.
She said she believes the students' symbolic gesture helps "make them aware of what goes on in their community, and lets them know how important it is not to keep child abuse a secret -- if they have a friend that's in trouble, tell an adult."