Event remembers Solano children lost to abuse
By Lanz Christian Bañes/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald, 4/25/2009
FAIRFIELD -- Just outside the county health building is a small but colorful garden: the Garden of Hope.
This lush greenery -- surrounded by 32 wooden chairs -- served as the backdrop Friday to the county's fifth annual observance of Children's Memorial Day, a day to remember children lost to neglect or abuse.
"There is a chair for every child whose life was lost in 2008," said Stephanie Ladd of the Office of Family Violence Prevention.
The county was fortunate that no child's life was lost due to neglect or abuse last year. The 32 children -- 17 and younger -- died of accidents or natural causes, Ladd said.
In 2007, the county lost 19 children.
"(But) by silencing even these lives, we still have much to do," said county Supervisor Linda Seifert, who praised the 30 or so people gathered at the Health and Social Services building at 275 Beck Ave.
The windswept ceremony featured speeches by Seifert and from those who regularly work with children.
There was also a simultaneous resource fair that provided information about child abuse and neglect.
Patrick Duterte, director of Health and Social Services, told the story of how his young daughter asked him why he had a red figure tacked onto his wall. The figure was made of construction paper and outlined in white, representing the chalk outline of a dead child.
"(The figure) is one thing I will never take down. This is my responsibility," Duterte said.Donna Robinson, a juvenile services manager for Solano County Probation, also spoke about losing children.
"Whether we lose a child to death or whether we lose them to the system it is still a tragic loss," Robinson said, adding that the1,200 children the department works with are good children who have made bad decisions.
After the speeches, the public was invited to write the name of a lost child, or a wish for living children on a red paper figure. The figures, along with blue pinwheels, were planted into the Garden of Hope.
Among those attending the event was Raymond Courtemanche, operations director of Mission Solano.
Courtemanche is the father of Matt Garcia, a 22-year-old Fairfield councilman gunned down last year.
"My family is just trying to keep his dream alive," Courtemanche said as he gazed at the small wooden chairs, each representing the same tragic loss his family had to endure.
Courtemanche's family is thankful for the outpouring of support from the community, he said.
"There's a lot of hope keeping the dream alive," Courtemanche added.