Emma’s House to host bike parade through Hamilton

 By RUSS LAWRENCE – for the Ravalli Republic

How does a community come together to prevent child abuse and neglect?

Emma’s House, Ravalli County’s Child Advocacy Center, thinks a bike parade for kids and adults, with free music, refreshments, and handouts for parents and kids is at least part of the answer.

April is “Child Abuse Prevention Month,” and Emma’s House in Hamilton is sponsoring the bike parade this Saturday, April 27, to raise awareness not only of the issue, but of the positive ways to combat it.

“It provides families with an opportunity to do something together, getting parents and kids outside and connecting with the community, as part of child abuse prevention,” said Val Widmer, Emma’s House executive director.

Kierstin Schmitt, Emma’s House office manager, added that there is a need for more child involvement in community events, with positive adult role models, and that is what this event symbolizes and encourages.

The event, which is not a race, begins with a gathering at Emma’s House, 800 N. Second St. in Hamilton at 10 a.m., where they’ll have coffee and cocoa to keep pedalers warm. Their route will take them down Second Street to Main Street; pedaling west to Tenth Street and passing Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, before winding out to the finish line at Hieronymus Park, a total of about four miles.

The Hamilton Police Department will accompany the parade with patrol cars to ensure the safety of riders.

Widmer noted that while it’s billed as a bike parade, it’s open to “skateboards, walkers, scooters, roller blades – everybody’s welcome,” she emphasized.

At the park, Emma’s House will serve up a warm welcome, with donated food and other refreshments for all parade participants.

Beginning at noon, at the Bitterroot River Inn adjacent to Hieronymus Park, the popular musical ensemble The Whizpops, from Missoula, will be playing indoors until 2 p.m., with music and stories that are equally enjoyable for kids and adults.

Families are welcome to come just for the music, if they don’t choose to participate in the parade.

This is the third year for the event, which is open to all ages, Widmer said. Children should be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult, and all riders must have a helmet. Widmer encourages all participants, young and old, to come in some sort of costume for the event, as long as it doesn’t interfere with safe cycling.

Emma’s House is the only Montana advocacy center Widmer knows of that is sponsoring an event for Child Abuse Prevention Month. Prevention of child abuse is part of the Emma’s House mission, which is primarily focused on providing services and improving outcomes for child victims of abuse and neglect.

Handouts available for parents will include parenting tips and information on signs of potential abuse, and suggestions for healthy family activities; for the kids, they’ll have coloring and activity books.

Several organizations promote Child Abuse Prevention Month. High on the list of ways to prevent child abuse are learning the signs, and knowing when and how it’s appropriate to report one’s suspicions. According to Widmer, “It’s every adult’s responsibility to keep a child safe.” If they suspect abuse, they can call 9-1-1, or report it to the Montana Child Abuse Hotline, 866-820-5437.

According to information from www.onewithcourage.org, physical signs of child abuse are uncommon; behavioral changes are much more likely to indicate possible abuse or neglect. They have an active, “Learn the Signs” campaign.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains another website, www.childwelfare.gov, with information on fostering healthy families, and preventing child abuse. They suggest that six factors can help protect children from abuse, including nurturing and knowledgeable parents, who understand child development and appropriate discipline; support for parents among the rest of the community; positive social connections for families; and emotional and social support for children.

Widmer encourages all the adults in a child’s life — parents, teachers, neighbors, coaches — to talk about the issue, and if they suspect a problem, to listen to their intuition, and talk to the appropriate person or agency.

Hannah Honey