A Big Pinwheel Garden Grows in Times Square

April 16, 2013

April 16, New York City— For a moment this morning, tourists and people rushing off to work near Times Square were distracted from the giant television screens and the everyday buzz of the city by a crowd holding glinting silver and blue pinwheels.

“What’s that for?” “What’s going on?”

An estimated 200 people convened in Times Square to create a “Big Pinwheel Garden” to spotlight child abuse prevention and healthy child development. The event was hosted by the nonprofit Prevent Child Abuse America with sponsorship from Hedge Funds Care, as part of a series of events across the country to mark Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Prevent Child Abuse America’s President and CEO, James M. Hmurovich was joined at the front of the crowd by Extra correspondent AJ Calloway and the Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan.

“I am proof, I promise, that prevention is possible if we have these conversations in our families and communities,” Hagan told the crowd, adding that several women in her family experienced child abuse firsthand and rallied to prevent it from happening to others in the family. As Miss America, her platform is the prevention of childhood sexual abuse.

We know how to prevent child abuse, Hmorovich said. “And we must do better.”

“We’re always talking about return on investment,” he said. “We have to take a look at the fact that when a child is abused, there’s a higher risk of that child having academic failure, that child having chronic health problems, that child have substance abuse problems. There is a greater risk of that child experiencing delinquency and violent delinquency.”

A Symbol of the “Possibility of Prevention”

What did participants and passersby make of the blue and silver pinwheels spinning in Times Square?

PINWHEEL1“Fun” was the word most people used.

“It’s happy. It’s fun. It makes you think of childhood,” said Mary Ellen Schneideler, from Paramus, New Jersey. “It’s important to bring our advocacy back to that, that everyone deserves a happy and protected childhood.”

“It’s nice to be here and be part of a good, aspirational story with all that’s happened in the last 24 hours,” Long Island resident Theresa Poppy told me, referring to the tragic bomb attacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

“This is about preventing things before they become tragedies,” said another participant, who asked to remain anonymous but said she was 21 and from New York, and here as part of volunteer work she does through her community college.

“I think it’s a very good idea to develop a positive symbol of child abuse prevention, a symbol that we all recognize and that can become an international symbol of what we all hope for,” said a 21-year-old man from New York who also asked to remain anonymous.

Prevent Child Abuse America chose the pinwheel—which first appeared at grassroots events held by its state chapters—in an attempt to reframe the national conversation about child abuse from sensationalized to solutions-focused.

Among the solutions that Prevent Child Abuse America promotes are evidence-based approaches like home visiting and family counseling. In particular, programs like the Healthy Families America initiative have been shown to significantly reduce rates of child abuse and child health problems, and to improve parent-child interactions.

Healthy Families America operates in more than 430 communities in 35 states and the District of Columbia. A voluntary program, it provides guidance and support to pregnant women and new parents. Supports are intensive and long-term, typically lasting until a child reaches age 3 or 5.

One of the most important things we can do is “give parents information” and supports “because parenthood is stressful,” Hmorovich said.

Most in the crowd said that they hoped the result of the Big Pinwheel Garden would be increased awareness not just of the prevalence of child abuse but also of these solutions.

“Events like this help with advocacy,” said 21-year-old Shanti, who asked that only her first name be used. “It helps you to both understand the impact of child abuse in the community but also to see how many people come out early in the morning to show support.”

At least half of the crowd were volunteers who had come out at 8:00 AM to set up, pass out pinwheels and figure out how to keep the sign from becoming a sail in a morning breeze that was unusually gusty for April in Manhattan.

Among those participating were members of the Kohl’s Cares for Kids employee service program and dozens of students from local chapters of Sigma Delta Tau and Kappa Delta sororities.

Others learned about the event from friends, or Facebook and Twitter networks. Prevent Child Abuse America is also using Causes.com to help spread the word.

In all, the crowd handed out more than 5,000 pinwheels, each blue and silver and with the website PinWheelsforPrevention.org inked on the stems.

You can find out about local events and get involved by visiting PreventChildAbuse.org.


Caitlin Johnson is SparkAction's co-founder and managing editor, and a writer in New York City. Read Caitlin's full bio here.




Caitlin Johnson