Pinwheels for Prevention: St. John lays down roots for child abuse awareness

Published 12:07 am Saturday, April 8, 2017

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish was under a strong wind advisory Wednesday, which made it a perfect day for planting pinwheels.

The LaPlace Office of Child Advocacy Services held its third annual Pinwheels for Prevention event Wednesday, inviting residents, parish officials and dozens of school children to help raise awareness of child abuse by creating a garden of silver and blue pinwheels on the lawn of the St. John Parish Community Center.

Children from Little Leaders Learning Center in Reserve and the St. John Child Development Center joined Parish President Natalie Robottom, Judge Sterling Snowdy and local CASA volunteers in planting the area between the building and U.S. 51.

Melissa Malik, a local CASA volunteer, plants one of the pinwheels in the St. John Parish pinwheel garden at the St. John Community Center. (Lori Lyons/L’OBSERVATEUR)

The little ones and the adults had to work a little to get the plastic sticks into the ground.

The children then happily played chase through the maze of spinning wheels before their teachers rounded them up to return to school.

The strong winds surely helped the cause, sending the sparkling pinwheels spinning and, occasionally, flying across the grass.

River Parishes Family Services Coordinator Akeem Burl was thrilled with the turnout Wednesday morning.

He and Advocate Supervisor Stacy Ashmore organized the local event as part of a nationwide campaign by Prevent Child Abuse America to make pinwheels the national symbol for child abuse prevention.

April has been declared National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“It’s a happy, child-friendly symbol,” said CASA Community Outreach Director Ginger Cangelosi. “It is representation of happy, healthy children and our part as a community to make sure that children are able to live the lives they deserve and are protected. When people see the pinwheels out there, it makes such a statement.

“They’re beautiful and they’ve been very clever with their slogan: anyway you spin it, child abuse is preventable.”

Individuals, schools, churches and businesses can order Garden to Go kits, which include a sign and 20 pinwheels.

Locally, pinwheel gardens have sprouted at the two Louisiana Federal Credit Union locations in LaPlace and the one in Norco.

“Hopefully this will raise awareness and get the idea out about what we’re trying to do and people will want to purchase their own gardens for their homes and businesses,” Burl said.

“We had a few businesses contact us. We’re hoping to get a few more.”

Cangelosi said this year’s campaign exceeded all expectations, even wiping out the organization’s initial supply of pinwheels.

“It’s a problem that we’re loving to have,” she said. “We ordered 5,000 pinwheels for our service area, including St. John Parish, and we are completely out in, like, four days. The response was well beyond what we imagined.

“People are planting them in front of their homes, their businesses. There even have been indoor plantings, like in a library.”

Besides raising awareness of child abuse, the campaign is bringing in volunteers for the CASA program.

Burl said his office received an influx of calls after last year’s garden planting but there still are more than a dozen children in St. John Parish waiting for a representative.

A CASA volunteer is an everyday citizen 21 and older who provides a voice for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.

Training programs are held annually for those interested in becoming a CASA volunteer.

No special skills are required.

Melissa Malik of LaPlace has been a CASA volunteer in St. John for about a year.

“Basically, my kids are grown and nearly out of the house and we’re not at the point where we’re ready to foster, but I’ve always been interested,” Malik said.

“I feel like I’m still helping kids. It want to feel like I’m doing something other than living, other than breathing.”

Anyone interested may contact the Child Advocacy Services office, 2840 W. Airline Highway, Suite G in LaPlace.

Those interested are asked to call Kristi Rice at 225-647-2005 or email to sign up for the training or ask questions about the program.

To learn more about Child Advocacy Services’ CASA program, visit