The city of Shawnee was officially named a “Safe Community” by the World Health Organization Saturday as the rain moved the award presentation and the community’s coordinating Child Abuse Prevention and Family Safety Day festivities indoors.
The city of Shawnee, in connection with the Kelsey Briggs Foundation, hosted the event at the Municipal Auditorium.
Amber Gregg, executive director of the Kelsey Briggs Foundation, said they hoped for a day out in the park, but the weather made for different plans.
Lance Briggs, the father of Kelsey, thanked the crowd for attending, adding he is excited about the formation of the foundation in his daughter’s name.
“It means so much to me, thank you,” he said.
“Radar,” one of many attendees part of BACA — Bikers Against Child Abuse — said they stand ready to lend support when they are needed.
Cherokee Ballard co-authored a book on the Kelsey Smith Briggs case. The book was officially released Saturday. Ballard said she and co-author Britten Follett began working on the book in 2006. Both began covering the case as television reporters after Kelsey, a Meeker toddler, died in October 2005.
“The story has been all-consuming to us, as it has been to many of you,” Ballard said, adding they wanted to tell the whole story. “It’s been a labor of love and heart-and-gut-wrenching at the same time.”
And, while Ballard said they know they will be criticized for their book, they stand by what they’ve written.
“Our goal is to perhaps keep another child from being tortured and beaten” she said.
And while Kelsey’s case ended in her death, there are survivor stories.
Christina Lee, a sophomore at Konawa High School, spoke about a little girl that overcame child abuse. She said she was that little girl.
“I stand before you today as a survivor of child abuse,” she said, adding she and her siblings now have a “wonderful mother and father,” along with great teachers and friends who have helped them get past their abusive childhood.
“All children deserve a home where they can thrive,” Lee said.
Mary Brazier of Shawnee’s Youth and Family Resource Center works as a counselor at Hope House. She said they’ve seen all kinds of situations, from children who have been locked out of their homes in 20-degree weather, to children who haven’t eaten for days, to those who have been bruised and battered and isolated from society.
“It’s an epidemic I live with every day,” she said. She encouraged the crowd to “Stop, look and listen,” and report suspected child abuse.
“You have an obligation as a person,” Brazier said.
Deborah Holloway, who wrote a song about Lance and Kelsey, sang that song, and dedicated a second song to the Briggs family.
Page 2 of 3 - As the announcements continued, children and their parents were making their way from booth to booth in the auditorium, including face painting, fingerprinting for child identification, and many others safety festivities. The event coordinated with April being National Child Abuse Awareness Month.
A moment of silence and balloon release was held outside for 35 children who died in 2008 as a result of child abuse.
Part of the festivities was the presentation of the Safe Community Award to Shawnee.
Mayor Linda Peterson, along with Tina Johnson from the Pottawatomie County Health Department, and Karen Lyall from Exxon Mobil, who is chairwoman of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, were on hand to sign that designation with Paul Kells from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It’s very humbling to be here today. I’m proud to represent Shawnee as the recipient of the Safe Communities designation,” Peterson said.
And since the designation coordinated with the safety day and child abuse prevention festivities, Peterson said, “If we help one child, then it’s all been worth it.”
On behalf of the city, friends, family and all citizens, Peterson accepted the honor of signing the designation.
Kells, who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, said he was here to celebrate a wonderful day.
He said Shawnee joins 181 other communities in 22 counties around the world who are now WHO Safe Communities. Shawnee is the eighth community in the United Sates to receive such recognition for its safety and prevention programs.
“You’ve done a marvelous job to work together, analyze and make a difference,” he said. “We salute your passion and dedication.”
Peterson accepted the city’s plaque and the designation was officially signed.
As the events continued, children explored different booths and safety areas, including the smoke simulation trailer.
Parent Kathy Nuckolls brought her sons — Timothy, 9, and Larry, 8 — to the safety event.
She said both watched video of Kelsey and have been asking questions about her, and both enjoyed the smoke simulator and learning what to do in case of a fire.
Timothy said they learned not to touch matches and lighters, while Larry said they crawled low in the smoke trailer and checked to make sure the door wasn’t hot before opening it.
“If there’s a fire, you call 911,” Larry said.
Nuckolls said events like this are good for the community.
Tiffany Yarbrough of Shawnee brought her two daughters, Allyson, 8, and Mia, 3 months.
“I think it’s a great event for the kids,” she said. She learned about an organization that provides teddy bears to children affected by trauma, so she was interested in helping that cause, she said.
While Mia, with a pretty pink bow in her hair, enjoyed riding around in her stroller, Allyson was busy gathering safety materials and bookmarks.
Page 3 of 3 - Rachel O’Neill of Tecumseh made her way through the booths with her children, Alexis, 9, and Abigail, 4 months. Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Deputy Al Turner took fingerprints of Alexis and gave them to her mother, which gave her peace of mind, she said.
“We’ll keep it with her birth certificate and vital records,” O’Neill said.
Melvin Potter, director of the E-911 center, handed out 911 stickers and coloring books, all intended to teach little ones how to call for help.
Many other safety booths, along with performances and entertainment also were part of the safety festivities.
Did You Know?
Shawnee is the first city in Oklahoma designated as a SAFE Community through the National Safety Council’s Safe Communities Program, part of the World Health Organization. The designation is awarded to communities that have demonstrated leadership in promoting safety, reducing injuries and preparing their citizens for natural and man-made disasters.