Bell County residents are tending to the needs of local children who are victims of abuse. Aware Central Texas is a nonprofit advocacy group with the mission of preventing local child mistreatment by offering counseling classes and mentoring families.
Christmas on the Farm is an annual event hosted by ACT at the Bell County Expo Center and helps combine fun with fundraising. University students helped with the recent effort.
Executive Director of ACT Sue Ellen Jackson said, “Bell County has one of the
highest rates of child abuse and neglect in Texas. In fact, they historically and presently rank in the top five counties, out of all 254 counties, for reports of child abuse and neglect.”
An estimated 8,000 people, including volunteers, participated in the holiday
event Nov. 14.
“Christmas on the Farm (helps) to provide education, encouragement and mentorship to at-risk families all across Central Texas,” Jackson said. “ACT hopes to reach families and help them to avoid situations that are harmful and hurtful to children and families.”
A maze built with cardboard boxes and hay bales for children to play in is one of several exhibits at the Expo that helps raise financial support.
Jackson asked Professor and Department Chair Hershall Seals to help. He and several others volunteered their time to design and build the maze.
Seals said, “It’s just another way to know that there are existing needs out there for people to care about other people and to contribute time and energy, not necessarily money, because it didn’t cost anything to create this maze.”
The students, he said, are giving their “time, energy and ingenuity” which is a worthwhile endeavor.
“What we’re trying to do is a service-oriented learning experience to provide the opportunity for our students to do something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return,” he said.
Realizing that they could afford to give their time for the effort made the difference for volunteers.
Senior professional studies major Ginger Braun said, “They needed help, and I don’t have class on Friday. It’s a good cause. There’s no reason not to do it.”
Braun lives in Harker Heights and said her desire to help the local advocacy center played a role in the decision to volunteer.
“It’s all been fun figuring out how much room (the kids) need,” Braun said as she crawled through a passageway taping up the loose edges.
She said she wishes she were a kid so she could go through the maze, “but some of these (tunnels) I don’t think I’m going to fit through.”
Freshman nursing major Lauren Courtney is a student worker in the art department, where she heard about the opportunity to volunteer.
She said the kids would enjoy “getting to crawl through all little holes and cubbies.”
Junior marketing major at Texas A&M Central Texas Fallon Pitts has been a volunteer family mentor for ACT since April. She worked alongside faculty and students from UMHB to build the maze.
“I think that anything that is available in this area to help kids come out and play and for families to interact with one another … and it’s a low cost, is always a great thing,” Pitts said. “Because people need that time to bond together. Families need that time to bond.”
Associate professor Barbara Fontaine- White, who also volunteered, said the support of ACT is vital to the future of local children.
“Aware Central Texas provides a critical service to Bell County in their efforts to raise awareness and prevent child abuse. It is important that UMHB students and faculty support the children of their community.”
The student-constructed maze gave local youngsters the opportunity to explore as they navigated through dirt-floor tunnels.
Fontaine-White said, “I’m sure the kids are OK with getting dirty, but I don’t know about their parents.”