Jan. 15, 2003 – Two children's advocacy agencies, KidsCope and Child Watch, are inviting the public, and particularly government officials, to take part in an interfaith service "of hope, healing, and zero tolerance" for family violence and abuse, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Cathedral on St. Thomas.
With the start of a new year and with a new political administration promising "greater attention to our children, youth and families," leaders of the two groups said in a mass-mailing letter made public, "we must be cognizant of the fact that our children are suffering in the Virgin Islands."
Dilsa Capdeville, founder and executive director of KidsCope, and Sandra Brunet, chair of Child Watch, said the year 2002 brought "a dramatic increase in the incidence of violence and fatal assaults against our children and women. Molestation, domestic violence, physical brutality, rapes, verbal harassment and assaults are still dangerously prevalent and escalating."
Two small children died as a result of brutal beatings within five months in the territory, both on St. Thomas — 2-year-old Rasheem Todman on Dec. 19, 2001, and 3-year-old Melea Pownell last May 10. A man who was caring for Rasheem was charged with the boy's murder. The boyfriend of Melea's mother was charged with murder and repeated counts of child abuse; the mother was shot dead outside her home last July.
Killings in 2002 skyrocketed to 42, nearly double the figure a year earlier; two victims were minors, a girl and a boy both 17 years old; five were women.
Thursday's event is the second annual interfaith service of healing. Capdeville and Brunet said targeted for participation are representatives of government and "every organization, every advocacy group, every individual to share in this day of blessing for all children and families in the Virgin islands."
"We also invite all schools to send a contingent of students," they said, noting that the service "will be mostly led in song, communion and prayer by children and youth." Those groups wishing to be represented should call Capdeville at 714-1012.
Part of the purpose of Thursday's service is to ask the community "to commit resources to allowing KidsCope to keep its doors open and to continue its important work in our community," the letter from Capdeville and Brunet stated. "Donations to KidsCope or Child Watch would be greatly appreciated."
Child Watch was formed under the aegis of the Youth and Human Services Committee of the 24th Legislature, chaired by then-senator Vargrave Richards. Richards, who was inaugurated a week ago as lieutenant governor, is the honorary chair of the group.
In a release, Richards said that "it is imperative that we commit this new year to doing what is necessary to enact meaningful laws, to sponsoring programs and giving financial assistance to organizations such as KidsCope that look after the physical and mental well-being of children and families." He said he is "alarmed that KidsCope may be forced to close its doors because of lack of resources." With no other entity able to supply the depth and scope of services the agency provides, he added, "we cannot allow KidsCope to close."
Although the service is taking place on St. Thomas and KidsCope is based on the island, the concerns are territorywide, as is the appeal for support, the release and letter said.
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