Friday, April 03, 2015

TOP STORY >> Mrs. Hutchinson hails Open Arms

Leader staff writer

“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” a teary-eyed First Lady Susan Hutchinson told the crowd of about 400 at the Open Arms Shelter’s third annual Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Banquet at Cabot Freshman Academy on Thursday.

The quote is from Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who!” — a story she believes teaches the lesson that every voice, including that of the smallest child, must be heard.

Before the keynote address, Open Arms Shelter Director Nancy Hamlin thanked those at the fundraiser who helped the facility build an outside pavilion and bike track the kids who stay there use to play outside when the weather is nice.

Hutchinson told banquet guests, including several local and state elected officials, that intervenors — the Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke, other similar centers, foster homes, Department of Human Services agents, police, prosecutors and counselors — are needed.

She said, “Time does not heal all wounds. It simply does not. Time can make you bitter. Time can make you sour. Time can make you mean. Time can make you distrustful. Time can make you the enemy. Time can disrupt your life forever.”

She would know, too. The former teacher has spent the past several years on the board of the Children’s Advocacy Center in Benton County.

The first lady continued, “I need you to help because these people, these little ones, they do go on. I don’t want to see them in prison. I don’t want to see them dysfunctional. I don’t want to see them carrying out the crimes done against them to others. Sometimes, they don’t wait to grow up to start hurting others.

“So it’s really, really important to intervene as soon as we know, as soon as we hear that silent cry, that smallest voice, so that we can help them become the people that God intended them to be so that they can thrive, not just survive.”

With intervention, abused and neglected children can learn what “true love” and appropriate relationships are like, she said.

Hutchinson added, “We’d like to think that the only time a child would need those people (intervenors) helping them is because some crazy stranger picked them up off the road and hurt them and dropped them off.

“That’s hardly ever the case. It’s almost always someone that little one was supposed to be able to trust.”

As for her Dr. Seuss anecdote, the first lady explained that the story was on her mind because she recently read one of his books to kids in honor of what would have been the author’s 111th birthday.

Hutchinson said the tale is about an elephant named Horton hearing a voice from a speck of dust that ends up belonging to the mayor of a microscopic community, Who-ville.

Horton promises to protect the town, but the other animals can’t hear any voice and get upset with him.

They steal the speck from Horton and later tie him up, threatening to destroy the speck and hurt the elephant they believe went “mad.”

Horton calls out to the mayor for help. The mayor gets everyone to make as much noise as they can so that the other animals can hear them.

But they aren’t loud enough to stop them from hurting Horton until the mayor finds the smallest Who in Whoville and brings him to yell at the top of the tiny town’s tallest mountain.

Then the other animals hear the microscopic people and apologize to Horton, who responds, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Hutchinson told the guests, “You have heard the voice of the smallest among us. Not everybody has heard the voice of the smallest among us.”

The first lady said those who attended the fundraiser, by being there and by donating or supporting programs in different ways, are shouting out and letting others know about the “little voices, the voices we don’t hear, the silent voices that we don’t hear, crying and muffled in their bedrooms, hiding away and wondering ‘What is going on? I thought I was a good little girl. I thought they loved me. Why is daddy doing this? Why is mom doing that?’

Hutchinson, imitating an abused or neglected child, shared all the lies children are told by those who harm them. Hutchinson said adults tell abused and neglected kids that no one will believe them, police will lock them up, they’ll never see their siblings again or other bad things will happen if they speak up about what is happening.

When life gets tough, “the children, the least among us, seem to be the ones that carry the brunt. And they’re easy targets. Who listens to a child? Some people have been listening,” she pointed out.

Hutchinson brought up that a new law levies an additional $25 fine for those who commit crimes in front of or to children and that the state has a human trafficking task force.

The first lady also described the community-based Open Arms Shelter during her 22-minute address.

Hutchinson said, “It’s people. It’s people who love and who care about the community and trying to make it better by helping the children; and I so appreciate that because that’s where it counts the most.”

Hutchinson noted that the organization is lucky to have support that other groups across the state are lacking.

But, the first lady continued, “I wish that everybody treated everybody the way that they should” and an awareness month or day and centers like Open Arms weren’t needed.

She said she wished everyone loved each other, could cope with the stresses of life without taking it out on someone else and that all understood proper boundaries in relationships.

Hutchinson also read a proclamation on behalf of her husband, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, recognizing that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Also at the banquet, the shelter’s director recognized 20-year employee Matty Cooksey and Department of Human Services partner of the year Dorothy Jackson.