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Pinwheel gardens across St. John highlight child advocacy

LAPLACE — Blue pinwheel gardens are bright and eye-catching, planted in public view to initiate conversations about National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

A small crowd of Child Advocacy Services representatives and St. John the Baptist Parish employees gathered outside the Norris J. Millet Sr. Library in LaPlace Wednesday morning to plant pinwheels near U.S. 51.

Community outreach director Lauren Reynolds said the pinwheels “definitely create a dialogue.”

“It’s a child-friendly symbol that opens a way for parents and adults to start that conversation with their children about child abuse,” Reynolds said. “It’s an attention grabber that gets people to ask questions.”

Jodi Luna of LaPlace has given a voice to 16 children across six cases since becoming a court appointed special advocate in 2017.

Rosalie Vitrano and Jodi Luna are local CASA volunteers.

Luna helped plant pinwheels Wednesday in hopes of recruiting others to advocate for local children on waiting lists to receive CASA volunteers.

“You go to court for them and make sure their voices are heard even if they can’t be there,” Luna said. “Mine have all been really small children. They can’t speak for themselves, so I just make sure they have a voice. We make sure, no matter what, the best outcome comes for them, whether it’s with bio parents or whether they are adopted out.”

Luna, who also operates local pet adoption group “Froggy’s Mission,” has long wanted to help children in her community. She grows close to the children in her cases and does whatever she can to improve their situation, even if it means asking around to provide them with donated clothing, furniture and other resources.

Jordyn G’sell and Larry Sorapuru Jr. plant pinwheels.

“I like the hard ones,” Luna said. “I like the difficult ones with multiple siblings. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years and years and years.”

Luna helped recruit Rosalie Vitrano, who was also present at Wednesday’s pinwheel planting.

Vitrano feels for the children who have suffered abuse and neglect, robbed of the carefree childhood all should be entitled.

“As a grandmother and a mother, your instinct is to protect children,” Vitrano said.

“Some parents don’t have that natural instinct, or they are hindered by drugs or from being abused themselves. It’s really sad, but the children are the ones that suffer, and it’s up to us to make sure they’re in the best and the safest place possible.”

Signs accompany blue pinwheels to bring awareness to Child Abuse Prevention Month resources.

Donna Bliss, the newest Child Advocacy Services recruitment specialist, looks forward to educating the community in St. John and St. Charles parishes.

According to Bliss, it’s easy to take a stand against child abuse by attending CASA training one night per week for five weeks. CASA volunteers must be at least 21 years old.

Community members and businesses can also help raise awareness by setting up their own blue pinwheel gardens during April.

CASA supporters include, front row, from left to right, Marcy Willet, Laverne Toombs, Rosalie Vitrano, Akeem Burl, Jodi Luna, Jordyn G’sell, second row, Shannon Brown, Merita Johnson, Natasha Bates, Diane Johnson and Donna Bliss.

Contact Child Advocacy Services at 1-800-798-1575 for more information.

Advocate Supervisor Akeem Burl said giving a voice to children in need is a continuous fight.

“Some people might say planting the pinwheels seems repetitive, but we always like to remind people we are still advocating for the same children,” Burl said. “If not those children, then more children each year.”

To report signs of child abuse or neglect, contact the local Department of Children and Family Services at 985-652-2938.