Third annual Safe Kids Expo set for Saturday

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 4/4/17

The Third Annual Safe Kids Expo will be held Saturday for all children in Walker County, with free games, inflatables and prizes — as well as a dog that is used to comfort victims in court. The event is sponsored by the by the Walker County Children’s Advocacy Center.

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Third annual Safe Kids Expo set for Saturday


The Third Annual Safe Kids Expo will be held Saturday for all children in Walker County, with free games, inflatables and prizes — as well as a dog that is used to comfort victims in court. The event is sponsored by the by the Walker County Children’s Advocacy Center.

Amy Cannon, a volunteer coordinator for the center, said volunteers are still being actively sought to help with the free event, which will involve carnival-themed games and inflatables lining around the square from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Walker County Courthouse Square. The Safe Kids Expo, which began as a Leadership Walker County program project, attracted between 3,000 and 4,000 people last year, according to reports.

“We estimate we will need up to 60 volunteers to man the inflatables, to make sure they are safe and secure and at the right capacity,” Cannon said, adding that she is working with counselors from the Walker County and Jasper City schools.

Also, the center is networking with Desperation Church, which has named the event one of several projects that it is volunteering with in the week leading up to Easter, she said.

Applications to serve as a volunteer are available at the center and on the center’s Facebook page, Cannon said.

One of the major attractions is a therapy dog that is being brought in by Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair to his office’s tent to greet children that day.

Officials said the dog has been featured in media stories across the state and even has its own Facebook page.

“It’s a dog that is used in Montgomery as a court facility dog. The dog is trained to go to court with children and other victims. There is all types of research to show how the victims benefit from having this dog assist them in the courtroom,” Metrock said.

According to a 2014 web story from WSFA-TV in Montgomery, the dog, named Willow, is a Labrador/Retriever mix that was bred and raised by Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that trains and provides assistance dogs. She works for the One Place Family Justice Center, a victim advocacy center in Montgomery. Sometimes she even goes with victims to the witness stand to give love and comfort as they first talk to investigators and then later as they relive details in court.

"There's a lot of research out there now dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and dealing with crime victims that pets and animals get them to start talking, get them to start engaging again and that's why she's such an important part of the Family Justice Center," Steve Searcy, the center's executive director, told WSFA.

"In the victims that we've seen her work with so far, it's made a big difference in the way that they have felt about themselves, the way that they've perceived the process that they're having to go through," Willow's handler, Tamara Martin, said to the station. "She can accompany them to the witness stand for trial testimony and just to provide comfort, just to love them unconditionally and just to be there and support them and encourage them."

“It’s a remarkable dog, Adair said Monday, noting it goes to court with both small children and elderly victims. “The courts have approved going to court with them.” 

He said the dogs like Willow cannot be purchased, and are given only after demonstrating a need and that one can take care of the dog.

Adair said the dog makes appearances around the state, and he hopes to show how a similar dog can be useful in Walker County.

April Metrock, the program coordinator and victim advocate at the center, said the event is held each April in recognition of Child Abuse Awareness Month. “The main reason that we started it was so that children could be more comfortable around first responders,” Metrock said, referring to police, fire and ambulance personnel. “Should they then ever have the need to be around a first responder, they would not be as afraid. We invite all first responders to come so that children can be more comfortable around them.” 

The Walker County Sheriff’s Department and police departments from Jasper and across the county are among several public safety agencies that are expected to participate, she said.

Non-profit groups which offer services to children in the community are also invited to participate.

Cannon said the Walker High School Band Boosters will be selling concessions, with most of the proceeds going to the band. A donation will be made back to the center from the proceeds of the concession stand, which is expected to have hot dogs, nachos, soft drinks, water and other offerings.

“We’ll have live music as well as a DJ. We’ll have carnival games and the children can receive tickets. Those tickets can later be traded in for prizes,” Metrock said.

The inflatables include not just a jumping inflatable but also a velcro wall, gladiator jousting, obstacle courses and others.

She said Warehouse 319 will also have a crawfish boil on the same day and $2 from each plate will go back to the center, she said.

The Curry Anchor Club will also be hosting a snack food drive, where children can bring a box of their favorite afterschool snack, such as individually wrapped snack cakes, juice boxes or cookies, to the information booth and get a free balloon.

The snacks will be used for children who come for therapy at the center, Metrock said.

Anyone wanting more information may call the center at 205-387-8324.