While April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, SUNY Oswego students in the For the Kids program have been actively raising awareness about this problem and raising funds to support local victims for three years.

In its first three campaigns, For the Kids raised $30,000 and collected a range of items to donate to the Child Advocacy Center, a local agency that provides a child-friendly and safe environment for a multi-disciplinary response to child abuse, promotes healing for victims and families and raises awareness of the issue. For the Kids is well into its $10,000 goal for this year.

"The fundraising done through For the Kids absolutely helps us do things we might not normally be able to do," said Melanie Proper of the CAC. "For the Kids allows us to offer different therapeutic groups, trainings, presentations, community education and awareness. It also helps us purchase supplies, including educational materials to use with the children, toys, art supplies and more."

A pair of 2015 graduates, Eli Kim-Swallow of the Laker men's hockey team and Denvol Haye of Delta Kappa Kappa fraternity, founded For the Kids in 2014, and those two groups have created a sustainable organization that includes interns receiving academic credits, student volunteers and community supporters.

"I saw Eli doing it my first year here," said Mitchell Herlihey, a senior men's hockey player majoring in risk management and insurance, who is taking a leadership role in For the Kids as part of an internship. "They put on good events for a good cause and I can get credit for it, so there's not a bad thing about it. And it's grown. It's cool I could be a part of it."

For Kevin Villarreal, a senior marketing major and DKK member now in his second year as an intern for the program, trying to reduce child abuse and its impact, particularly in Oswego County, remains a major motivation.

"I've been to the CAC and have seen the kids and the struggles they've been having, and I really wanted to make a difference," Villarreal said. "It's an issue not many college students know about."

Active schedule

The event's modest beginnings, starting from scratch, earned Kim-Swallow a national honorable mention Jostens Community Service Award from the National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators. The initial year anchored around a fundraiser at local bar, The Shed, but the awareness and fundraising continue to expand.

This year's campaign included campus and community members in events like an open skate fundraiser and, most recently, a fundraiser at Lighthouse Lanes on March 21 where members of the hockey team and DKK bowled with the kids and families.

"It was great to see Greek life and our athletic teams working together and having fun for a good cause," Herlihey said.

Interest from the hockey community and especially the Blue Line Club, a booster club for Laker hockey, has helped bolster this year's activities.

"We tabled at the hockey games and collected more than $1,000 in non-perishable snacks for the kids," Villarreal said.

"The biggest difference this year, I think, has been a lot more involvement from our Blue Line Club members and their families," Herlihey said. "They keep asking us about it and getting more involved, and came out in large numbers for bowling."

This year's event at The Shed on April 29 invites campus and community members to show support and win prizes. That coordination, which includes visiting local business for monetary donations or gift certificates as prizes, has provided hands-on experience for organizers -- as has development of marketing materials, social media content and fundraising plans.

For the Kids also hopes to coordinate a community gala in early May, and has received interest and support from local officials, but "we just need to raise the capital to make a deposit on the facility," Herlihey said. If not this year, they hope to add it to the 2018 calendar of events.

CAC connection

The CAC offers mental health counseling, activities for young clients, victim advocates who coordinate the family and criminal court cases with the other members of the multi-disciplinary team and assist the family thought the court processes, space for law enforcement and child protective services to do forensic interviews on site and a nurse providing the forensic medical exams on site free of charge.

Despite cuts in funding that continue to impact many participating agencies, For the Kids has allowed the CAC to continue playing an active and key role, and Proper said the awareness the students provide has been very important as well.

"College students leading this initiative is crucial. I don't know if the students realize the impact they are having and that they have the possibility to have," Proper said.

College students "are a population that does not often speak out against child abuse and especially child sexual abuse," Proper noted. "To have a group of young men talking about this topic can capture new audiences and more attention. Especially when they are respected on campus and in the community for their positions with the hockey team or DKK."

For more information, visit the For the Kids Facebook page or their online fundraising page.

President Deborah F. Stanley thanks some of the For the Kids organizers

For the Kids -- SUNY Oswego students run the For the Kids program that raises funds to support the Child Advocacy Center while raising awareness about child abuse. Committee members from the Laker men's hockey team and from Delta Kappa Kappa fraternity earned praise and thanks in a March 23 meeting with college President Deborah F. Stanley. From left are Kevin Villarreal, Nicholas Drumm, Mitchell Herlihey, Stanley, Conor Malone, Tyler Fey, Kevin Reilly and Christopher Waterstreet.