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CONWAY -- More than 200 candles and a live band will mark a ceremony Saturday night to honor abused and neglected children in five Arkansas counties.

The Children's Advocacy Alliance plans to honor children who have participated in programs run by the Children's Advocacy Center and the Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as CASA, of the 20th Judicial Circuit. In addition to the circuit's three counties -- Faulkner, Van Buren and Searcy -- the alliance also advocates for children in Conway and Perry counties.

The candlelight ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Simon Park on Front Street in Conway.

"This is the first year that we've done this," said Leia Smith, the alliance's development coordinator. "And, to my knowledge, this is the first event of this kind in the state."

The alliance served 442 children in 2018, has served 220 children so far this year and may help more by Saturday, Smith said Tuesday. "We're lighting candles and ... pausing at the halfway point in the year."

Each candle will feature the first name of a child with whom the alliance has worked.

"We have a lot of solidarity coming from survivors of child abuse," Smith said. "Some of those planning to attend are foster parents or former foster children. ... There will be former victims of child abuse there, too."

Smith said she finds it "very soothing for the soul to help these kids and to stand up for them." Likewise, she said, "We've found that it means a whole lot to these kids when they see that their community cares."

The alliance works with the Arkansas Department of Human Services and the Arkansas State Police's Crimes Against Children Division.

"We wanted to give the community a chance to do something small," Smith said in a recent news release. "It doesn't take much time, but it means so much to this mission. If we as a community can stand, together, lighting candle after candle, in honor of these brave children, we become braver."

Playing live music during the ceremony will be Just Cause, a Conway band featuring John Beasley, William Cone, David Hales, Stuart Holt, Christina Munoz Madsen and Matt Parks.

"Many of the children we serve feel alone and as if the trauma they've experienced isolates them from others. Often, these children do not have support from family, friends, or caregivers," Courtney McPherson, a mental-health therapist with the alliance and the advocacy center, said in the release.

Smith said her "hope for this event is that we have one person lighting one candle for every child we served." Because there are so many, she said, "I need our community to stand with us in solidarity against abuse and light hope for our kids."

State Desk on 06/12/2019

Print Headline: Event to honor abused children

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