WELLSBURG - Leaders of the Northern Panhandle Head Start program recruited butterflies, children and their parents and grandparents to send a message about domestic violence at the city's Betty Carr Recreation Site.
Wearing blue and white T-shirts bearing the words, Stop the Violence, children from the pre-school program released butterflies into the sky with the help of parents and grandparents who gathered near the park's Kiwanis Shelter.
The winged insects are a symbol of hope that those affected by domestic violence may find peace and that the cycle of violence may be broken, said Dawn Smith, family resource advocate for the program.
Part of a national program begun in 1965, Northern Panhandle Head Start focuses on the early education, health and nutritional well-being of children 5 years old and under through centers established at several sites.
Children from the program's centers at 406 Commerce St. and Beech Bottom Primary School carefully unfolded paper packets containing the butterflies and watched as they flew into the sky.
The Lighthouse, a local domestic violence shelter operated by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., supplied information detailing signs that a family member or friend may be involved in an abusive relationship and how victims may get help.
Prior to Thursday's program, Smith and Head Start staff members Rachel Pattison, Amy Gibson, Valerie Whetsell and Caitlyn Williamson and parents Carrie Hart, Nicole Yahoo and Michael Hurst also collected $200 for the Melinda Allen Family Memorial Fund.
The fund was established following the brutal murders of 31-year-old Melinda Allen and her 8-year-old son, Ethan Brown, by Allen's husband, Abraham, at their Wellsburg home on Sept. 8.
Police found Abraham Allen a short time later at the family's former home in Harrisburg, Pa., where he had killed himself.
Smith said Melinda was a loving mother and caring nurse and Ethan, a cheerful young pupil and athlete, whose absences are still felt by all who knew them.
She said contributions to the fund and to a picnic held at the shelter following the butterfly launch were Arby's of Wintersville, Valley Haven Geriatric Center, J&B Custom Cycle, Professional Tire and Alignment and Vance and Abigail Hart.
The butterflies were supplied by Butterflies from Heather, a professional breeder of butterflies in Wellsburg.
Maurita Gaston, Melinda's cousin and one of several members of Melinda's family on hand for the program, said there were no signs that Abraham's relationship with Melinda was abusive and she believes Melinda certainly would encourage anyone in such a relationship to leave their partner and seek help.
But she added her family appreciates the support from Northern Panhandle Head Start and the entire community since the murders occurred.
Gaston said Melinda and Abraham's 3-year-old son, who was at home at the time but untouched, is now in the care of Melinda's family and doing well.
Staff with the Lighthouse shared the following advice from the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
Spouses or significant others should be wary of partners who are jealous or suspicious of anyone they speak to, wants to be with them constantly and tries to distance them from parents, other family members or friends.
Abusive individuals often attempt to control their partners' behavior, sometimes through the guise of being concerned for their safety; undergoes rapid mood swings and is overly sensitive.
They can be loving at times, which makes it harder for their partners to leave; and they may threaten to harm themselves if their partners do leave.
Teens whose boyfriends are abusive often are concerned that if they tell their parents, they will react violently.
Abused spouses or girl- or boyfriends should trust their "gut" instincts about the relationship and break the silence by talking with someone they trust about the problem.
Those who fear they will be physically or sexually hurt should call the police, especially if their partners threaten to hurt them or someone close to them.
They shouldn't end a relationship in person if they fear their spouse or partner will hurt them and should avoid contact with that person.
Help also can be found through the Lighthouse, (304) 797-7233; the Upper Ohio Valley Sexual Assault Help Center, (304) 234-1783: National Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-SAFE; or the Rape and Incest National Network, (800) 656-HOPE.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com.)