(April 26, 2019) The Cricket Center in Berlin will take the fight against child abuse to the Ocean City Boardwalk this Sunday, during the sixth annual “Walk for Kids” event.

Executive Director Wendy Myers said the walk is the center’s largest prevention effort of the year.

Registration begins at 11 a.m. at Hooters on Fifth Street. The $25 fee includes the walk, a commemorative token, and admission to a reception at Hooters on the Boardwalk from 1-3 p.m. Trophies will be awarded for the top individual fundraisers and team fundraisers during the reception.

“Hooters is our corporate sponsor for this event,” Myers said. “They are just an amazing support for the Cricket Center and for kids in our community. They provide all the food … and advertising, and they make donations and their staff makes donations. It’s all to help us in our [child abuse] prevention efforts in Worcester and here on the Lower Shore.”

The event will also include a “kissing booth” with Josiah, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever who joined the center as a therapy dog last year.

Josiah pup

Cricket Center therapy dog Josiah will host a kissing booth during the sixth annual "Walk for Kids" event, this Sunday on the Ocean City Boardwalk. Registration starts at 11 a.m. 

Registration can be done online at www.thecricketcenter.com, or by calling the center at 410-641-0097. All proceeds to benefit abused children in Worcester County.

The Cricket Center provides trauma therapy for abused and sexually abused children, and also aids the effort to prosecute those who harm children. Partnering agencies include Atlantic General Hospital, local law enforcement, Life Crisis, Inc., the Worcester County Board of Education, department of social services, and state’s attorney’s office.

Myers said the center uses events like “Walk for Kids” to go into the community and educate people on the signs and symptoms of abuse.

“Some of the ways to keep kids safe are just limiting access by other people. At least 90 percent of the time, when children are sexually abused it’s by someone they know and probably trust,” she said. “By limiting access to folks, you certainly are able to protect your children a little better.

“When there are situations where you can be present, be present. If your child is in a youth group, having a trusted family member there with them [can keep them safe],” Myers added.

Also, she said, parents should talk to their children about difficult subjects, like what “appropriate touching” is, as well as the importance of having a safe or trusted person around.

“If it’s not the parent, then maybe there’s a teacher that a child feels comfortable speaking to, or another family member,” Myers said. “When they know they have someone safe to communicate with, that certainly provides a safety net for the child. Having those kinds of discussions is really key.”

Technology also poses new challenges for parents.

“People have access to our children like never before and that means our children have access to other things too,” Myers said. “Limiting screen time and having parental controls are some ways [to keep children safe].”

Again, Myers said, parents should talk to their children.

“It’s not easy having those conversations with kids, but it’s necessary,” she said. “And it’s not just one conversation – it’s building a relationship where you can have ongoing dialog about what’s appropriate and what’s not.”

There is an entire section of resources for parents on the Cricket Center website. For more information, visit www.thecricketcenter.com/what-is-child-advocacy/for-parents.

“Parents and caregivers can also call the Cricket Center at any time, if they have any questions or if they need advice, or if they’re concerned about a child,” Myers said.

Myers said the center has recently seen “a sharp increase in cases” related to child abuse.

“Some of that is just the time of year. Some of that is that we’re going out and we’re talking to people and letting people know how to report,” she said. “Some of that also, we believe, is because of Erin’s Law, which came into effect last fall.”

Childhood sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn for several years has lobbied states to pass Erin’s Law, requiring public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program.

In Maryland, Myers said the new law also helps children understand what appropriate touching means, as well as who to report to and how to report instances of abuse.

“Because our children are being educated at all different ages, we believe that we’ll start to see an increase [in reporting],” she said. “We’re hopeful that children will understand what’s not OK and they’ll find someone that they trust to tell if something is happening to them.”

Myers, also the vice president of the Maryland Children’s Alliance, was recently in Annapolis to witness the signing of a bill related to child advocacy centers. The Cricket Center is the only accredited center in Worcester County, but Myers said the bill would help establish similar centers throughout the state.

“Everyone worked so hard to get statewide support for that bill,” she said. “It was very much a team effort [of the Maryland Children’s Alliance] … but it passed unanimously through both houses.

“That will allow every community to have an accredited child advocacy center,” Myers added.

Along with “Walk for Kids,” the center each fall holds a fundraiser at The Hobbit restaurant in Ocean City. Myers said that date would be set within the next few weeks.

Additionally, this August will mark the 10th anniversary of the center being housed on the Atlantic General Hospital campus in Berlin. Myers said an open house for elected officials and members of the public would commemorate the anniversary.

For information about the Cricket Center, visit www.thecricketcenter.com or call 410-641-0097. Donations to the center can be made online, or by mail to The Cricket Center, PO Box 97, Berlin, Maryland 21811.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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