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PRESS PHOTO BY MICHELLE MEEH Participants in the Front Porch Project at First Presbyterian Church played a balloon game to show the benefits of working in community to help prevent and report child abuse. PRESS PHOTO BY MICHELLE MEEH Participants in the Front Porch Project at First Presbyterian Church played a balloon game to show the benefits of working in community to help prevent and report child abuse.

Front Porch Project targets child abuse

Thursday, May 21, 2015 by MICHELLE MEEH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

As part of child abuse prevention month, Bethlehem residents joined the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) to learn how to prevent, detect and report instances of child abuse and neglect in their neighborhoods. A total of 25 people participated in the Front Porch Project (FPP) workshop recently at First Presbyterian Church on Center Street. The program was designed to educate community members on how to play a role in child protection.

The event was co-sponsored by the Bethlehem Partnership for a Healthy Community and the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Safe Church Committee.

Bobbi Edwards, a volunteer at First Presbyterian, was recently trained by PFSA to present the program. She described community members as assets to children they meet and told participants, "you can be a part of that external asset for somebody. Give positive feedback to that child."

Beth Bitler of PFSA in Harrisburg encouraged participants to interact with families if it seems that a child may be being abused. She encouraged empathy with parents who seem overwhelmed by childcare and "which buttons to be aware of" in their own feelings. She led participants in a game with balloons. Keeping the balloons in the air first singly, then as a group, showed that when people get involved "then the whole community is going to do a better job."

Laurel Accetta, a new trainer with PFSA, said the workshop helped participants "learn skills that help them to function more effectively in community. This teaches people ways to do this. There are so many children who don't have anybody looking out for them," she said.

Participants discussed several fictional scenarios where children may be abused and what they could do to help. Often people are hesitant to get involved to report potential child abuse for various reasons.

Participant Donna Tiovanni said she is always interested in protecting children from abuse. She said the scenarios taught her how to handle potential situations where children are at risk.

"I learned things that made me feel more comfortable in dealing with situations that might arise," she said, "what to say what not to say, what to do what not to do."

Tiovanni said she enjoyed the scenarios very much. "The presenter did a really good job. It helped you evaluate situation. If you let it go not to do it out of fear but do it because it's wise." The FPP gave helpful tools to evaluate situations and determine the best course of action, she said.