Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fight eating disorders, child abuse

 March 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 
Spring is in full bloom in the Old Pueblo, and there's no better time to get out of the house. Several low-profile nonprofit organizations are offering a little extra incentive to do just that, with causes ranging from child-abuse prevention to support for those coping with eating disorders.
"April is Prevent Child Abuse Month, and with the March for Children we try to draw attention to the needs of children as well as the need for strong families," said Bob Heslinga, executive director of Aviva Children's Services. The nonprofit is one of several sponsors of the Ninth Annual March for Children on April 13. Other sponsors include Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Pima County and Community Partnership of Southern Arizona.
"The march is not a fundraiser, but if we can help garner support for the agencies involved, that makes it even more worthwhile," Heslinga said.
Aviva and CASA help children in need, including almost 3,700 in Pima County in the care of Child Protective Services.
Aviva is a Tucson-based nonprofit that provides support and resources for children who have experienced abuse, neglect or poverty and are in the care of CPS. Aviva's Parent Aide Program provides supervision during visits between parents and children, while a Parent Peer Support Program offers ongoing support after families are reunified. Volunteer opportunities include mentoring and tutoring children or serving as a "life book" writer to create narratives about the children's pasts.
CASA of Pima County is affiliated with the Pima County Juvenile Court and appoints volunteers to serve as "the eyes and ears of the judge and the voice for the children." Each advocate is an integral member of the team of attorneys, CPS case managers and other professionals assigned to protect children who have been removed from their homes and placed in temporary or group homes due to abuse or neglect.
Since 2009, Pima County has experienced a 49 percent increase in the number of children in out-of-home care, according to Becky Ruffner, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona.
Ruffner attributes the increase to a combination of causes, including changes in CPS policy and the economic difficulties and skyrocketing unemployment that began in 2008.
"The No. 1 report CPS receives is neglect, and that goes to meeting basic needs such as food and clothing," Ruffner said. "I really like CASA because it directly engages everyday citizens in helping kids in out-of-home care."
Another issue that hits close to home for many people is eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men nationwide suffer at some point from a clinically significant disorder - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder or an otherwise unspecified eating disorder.
"Many people say that if you have another disorder or illness, you wouldn't hesitate to take medications or seek treatment, and in the case of eating disorders we are making great progress in sharing with people the treatments and support that are available," said Mandy Shoemaker, coordinator of the Tucson NEDA Walk on April 7 at Reid Park.
Shoemaker emphasized that overcoming the stigma and the misconception that eating disorders are all about vanity are central to her mission with the walk, where information and resources about treatment will be available.
"In the past it has been a taboo or uncomfortable topic, and many people are embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it, but there is no shame in it. New research is showing it may even be a chemical imbalance in the brain.
In some cases, it can be an obsession that spirals out of control, or in other cases, a mental illness," said Shoemaker, 30, who is in recovery after struggling with an eating disorder since age 12.
Overall, Shoemaker hopes to help others realize it is possible to overcome eating disorders with help.
"If I can do it, anyone can do it," she said. "It is really one day at a time and, at times, one hour at a time."
If you go
• What: Tucson National Eating Disorders Association Walk.
• When: April 7 - 8:30 a.m. registration; 9 a.m. walk.
• Where: Reid Park at Ramada 20 in the northwest corner of the park near South Country Club Road and East Camino Campestre.
• Cost: $25 for adults; $15 for students; $10 for children 12 and younger.
• The details: Festivities include a 1.9-mile, family- and pet-friendly walk, a free T-shirt with registration, and resources and information about treatment and support for eating disorders.
• All proceeds benefit the National Eating Disorders Association and affiliated groups to fund research, prevention and education about eating disorders.
• Info: Go to neda.nationaleatingdisorders.org/site/TR/NEDAWalk/General?pg=entry&fr_id=2080 or call 1-212-575-6200.
• What: Ninth Annual March for Children.
• When: 9:30 a.m. April 13.
• Where: The parking lot of CrossFitWorks, 244 S. Tucson Blvd.
• Cost: Free.
• The details: This half-mile, family-friendly walk marks April as Prevent Child Abuse Month and promotes individuals, families and communities that are engaged in child development and child-abuse prevention.
• Festivities at the end of the walk include refreshments, speakers and information about resources that increase protective factors for children at Aviva Children's Services, 153 S. Plumer Ave.
• Info: Go to www.marchforchildren.webs.com or call 327-6779.

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