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Generating a Spark of hope for child sexual abuse victims

On Saturday, Canby-based nonprofit Sparks of Hope put on a surprise parade and celebration for kids who have survived sexual abuse.

The parade took place about 1 p.m. and stretched from Custforth's Town Hall, up N. Ivy Street and down Second Avenue to Wait Park.

Organizers did some grass roots promotional work and asked the community to line the parade route to help celebrate the kids who were participating, all heroes as survivors of sexual abuse, said Lee Ann Mead, founder of Sparks of Hope. SUBMITTED PHOTO - Whether part of the parade or lining the downtown streets of Canby, there were plenty of good vibes flowing during the Sparks of Hope event Saturday.

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

Mead, 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 in the U.S., she said.

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

The whole parade lasted about 10-15 minutes, but that little amount of time made such a difference for the kids to be treated like heroes, because they are heroes surviving the things they did, Mead said.

Originally, the event, loosely billed as "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 — met up in Wilsonville — ironic, in a way, for the kids in Canby to go all the way up there just to get on a bus and ride back to Canby, Mead said.

"The idea, though, was to get them all on one bus so they could have that experience together of riding and showing up in the same vehicle," she said.

After being paired up with their individual adult buddies, the kids headed to Cutsforth'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 created his or her own superhero cape — all while enjoying doughnuts provided by Cutsforth's. Each kid knew the theme was "Superhero Day," but none were aware they were going to participate in a parade as superheroes, Mead said.

"They put on the capes and as soon as they did they headed downstairs and that's the first time they learned about the parade," Mead said.

Once they reached Wait Park, the kids were 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 rolled up in a patrol unit, lights and sirens blazing, and Superman jumped out with Mayor Hodson, announcing he had been rescued.

Once the kids realized the mayor "was in good hands," Hodson presented each Sparks of Hope kid with a special gift, akin to an award of citizenship — a medal declaring them honorary citizens of Canby, Mead said.

From Wait Park, the Sparks of Hope children made their way over to The Backstop Bar & Grill and upstairs to the Antonia Ballroom, where the restaurant's owner, Ken Arrigotti, provided 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, all who were 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'd 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.

After the kids finished at the Antonia Ballroom they all re-boarded the bus and headed 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 watched a superhero-themed movie; 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 started within the Canby Grove with about 20 vendors/booths, each with different activities.

And around 5 p.m., a magician began his show, which included "some crazy, awesome stuff you don't see magicians typically do, and I don't mean weird stuff like Chris Angel," Mead said.

"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 who 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."

To learn more about Sparks of Hope or to make a donation, visit the Canby nonprofit's website at www.sparksofhope.org or call 503-592-0096.