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Secret parade for kids who survived sexual abuse needs participants this weekend

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Shhhhhh, yet make sure to tell as many people as possible about this Saturday's Canby secret parade and celebration for kids who survived sexual abuse.

The "magic, secret" parade — a secret meant to surprise the kids — is taking place tomorrow, this Saturday, at about 1 p.m., stretching from Custsforth's Town Hall, up N. Ivy Street and down Second Avenue to Wait Park. SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sparks of Hope pairs children who are survivors of sexual abuse with individual adult buddies to lead them through a variety of creative events.

Organizers are asking the community to line the parade route and help celebrate the kids who are participating, all heroes as survivors of sexual abuse.

"It's an unorthodox approach, but with the Canby community being as giving as it is, it could magical," Mead said.

The all-volunteer group promulgating the March 4 event, loosely known as "Superhero's Day," is a Canby nonprofit established in 2011 called Sparks of Hope.

Lee Ann Mead, the founder of Sparks of Hope and herself a survivor of sexual abuse, said she launched the group six years ago to provide healing services to children and teens, about 60 to 70 of them ages 3-17, impacted by sexual abuse. No other such organization exists in the Portland Metro region, or anywhere nearby, she said.

"We're going to have a parade with the Canby Fire Department escorting them," Mead said. "The kids have no idea this is happening. We're hoping the Canby community will come out to support these kids and line the parade route along Second Avenue from Cutsforth's Marketplace to Wait Park. These kids have been through a lot — they survived the unimaginable — and they are heroes in that sense. We want to have a day for them where they are treated like royalty.

"The whole parade will last about 10-15 minutes tops, so we're really hoping that people can find the time this Saturday to show up and line the route for about 30 minutes out of their weekend," Mead continued. "It would make such a difference for these kids to be treated like heroes, because they are heroes surviving the things they did. And the parade is a total surprise for them so if we can get some of that Canby magic to occur, even though we're asking last minute, it would make such a big difference in their lives to see that they are not and do not have to deal with this alone."

Originally, "Superhero's Day" was called "A Christmas to Remember," and was supposed to take place during the 2016 holiday season, with an appearance by Santa Claus and everything, as well as Mayor Brian Hodson and possibly other city councilors, all of whom were going to be rescued that day by the Canby Police Department.

But the relentless winter weather of 2016-17 threatened to wreak havoc the weekend "A Christmas to Remember" was planned, causing the event to be canceled — more as a precautionary measure than anything.

Plus, each kid is required to have one adult "buddy" that pairs with them, so trying to organize the event with at 60-70 adults — coordinating everything with their schedules as best as possible — was difficult at best, especially with everyone being stuck in some form or another thanks to the storm and ice that piled up around Canby and throughout the region.

The kids — Sparks of Hope children come from all over the region — are going to meet up in Wilsonville.

"Ironic, in a way, for the kids in Canby to go all the way up to Wilsonville just to get on a bus and ride back to here," Mead said. "The idea, though, it to get them all on one bus so they can have that experience together of riding and showing up in the same vehicle."

Plans call for the Sparks of Hope brood to leave Wilsonville, after being paired up with their individual adult buddies, and head to Custforth's Town Hall, which is on the second floor in back of the locally-owned Thriftway chain and often hosts Canby Area Chamber of Commerce networking luncheons and events.

Then, the kids each will create his or her own superhero cape — all while enjoying doughnuts provided free by Cutsforth's. Each kid knows it's "Superhero Day," but none are aware they are going to participate in a parade as superheroes, Mead said.

"They are going to put on the capes and as soon as they do they will head downstairs and learn about the parade," Mead said.

"By the way, anyone is allowed and encouraging to participate in the parade, whether that's walking along the route dressed as their favorite superhero or actually creating a float on a truck and rolling down the street," Mead added.

Once they reach Wait Park, the kids will be told that Mayor Hodson was supposed to be there but someone had kidnapped him earlier that morning. Right about that time, one of the Canby Police officers will roll up in a patrol unit, lights and sirens blazing, and Superman will jump out with Mayor Hodson, announcing he has been rescued.

"We aren't sure who the villain in the back of the patrol car is going to be yet," Mead said. "We're hoping that will come to fruition pretty soon here."

Once they realize the mayor "is in good hands," Hodson will present each Sparks of Hope kid with a special gift, which will be akin to an award of citizenship — a medal declaring them honorary citizens of Canby, Mead said.

"Maybe not exactly that but something like that is the plan," she said.

From Wait Park, the Sparks of Hope children will make their way over to The Backstop Bar & Grill and upstairs to the Antonia Ballroom, where the restaurant's owner, Ken Arrigotti, is providing appetizers for the kids to eat while hanging out and talking to Superman (they would have been spending time chatting with Santa Claus had it occurred during the originally-planned holiday season event), the mayor, Canby police officers and Canby Fire District firefighters, also who plan to be part of the day's festivities.

Todd Gary, division chief of community risk reduction, said the Sparks of Hope event is one local charitable event that he's been looking forward to, at least since last winter when "A Christmas to Remember" was canceled.

"It's really an honor to be part of the parade and the event," Gary said. "People call firefighters heroes and maybe we are but these kids really are heroes."

After the kids are done at the Antonia Ballroom they'll all re-board the bus and head over to the Canby Grove Christian Center — for those who don't know it is the Christian-based campground located just west of the Canby city limits past the Molalla River on Knights Bridge Road — where they will watch a superhero-themed movie, although which one has yet to be nailed down; originally, Sparks of Hope organizers planned to screen several Christmas-themed movies, such as "The Santa Clause," but that doesn't make a lot of sense anymore being that now it's March and almost springtime, Mead said.

Then, beginning about 3:30 p.m. a carnival will start within the Canby Grove grounds — in fact, there currently are about 20 vendors/booths with different activities, and Sparks of Hope organizers are still hoping to get more participants to enter into this weekend's carnival.

And around 5:00 p.m., Sparks of Hope organizers plan to have a magician begin his show, which includes "some crazy, awesome stuff you don't see magicians typically do, and I don't mean weird stuff like Chris Angel," Mead said. "Family stuff; it'll be loads of fun."

"I think the community is going to have an 'Ah-Ha' moment with these kids, who are not out of control or mentally unstable," Mead continued. "They are normal precious souls, just like (most people's own) nieces and nephews and children, but these kids have been traumatized, abused. It doesn't make them any different it just means that they've been through a horrible trauma that really is unimaginable for just about everybody. They are very resilient, but that doesn't mean they are going to grow up and not need support, even as young men and women or full-grown adults. We need people who care, people will tell them over and over again that they are worthy as individuals, and not to allow what happened to them to impact or define them in the future. They are heroes, and that's what this is all about."

Anybody who wishes to participate in Sparks of Hope or make a donation please visit the Canby nonprofit's website at HYPERLINK "www.sparksofhope.org" www.sparksofhope.org or by calling 503-592-0096.