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Alliance getting games, info into families' hands

May 14, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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Tyler Lemankiewicz, of Mars, checks out his new Lego set with Sue Counts of the Butler County Alliance for Children on Wednesday.

Games are being used to confront a serious issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Denna Hays, executive director of the Butler County Alliance for Children, and volunteers have been giving out free games and information to families to help relieve stress and keep children safe during this time of stay-at-home orders.

Hays said since April 30, the alliance, a nonprofit child advocacy center at 1015 E. Jefferson St., has teamed up with Butler County school lunch programs to deliver the games and information along with the meals to children who might be in need.

It's called the Play Safe, Stay Safe Initiative.

Hays said the center has passed out games at Freeport, Slippery Rock and Karns City school lunch programs. More games were handed out Wednesday at the Mars Area High School parking lot.

“We have board games, card games and activity kits,” Hays said. “Mostly, it's board games. They are in a plastic bag with fliers with information for various community centers such as 211, the Center for Community Resources and the Penn State Extension.”

“We were realizing families facing hardship at this time may not know all the services available to them in the county,” she said.

Reaching parents with information through students has the support of school administrators.

“It was an easy yes on my part,” said Slippery Rock School Superintendent Alfonso Angelucci about the center's presence at the district's lunch program. “It's not just the games, but it's the information included. It was first-class. It was useful and meaningful to the parents.”

Stay Safe

“There's a lot of concern. Kids are at home and not getting contact with mandated reporters,” Hays said.

Statewide, she said, there's a 50 percent decrease in the number of reports made to authorities. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Child Line, 1-800-932-0313, accepts child abuse reports and other child well-being concerns and transmits them to the appropriate investigating agency.

However, the stress generated by the COVID-19 pandemic created an unhealthy situation.

“Just because the reported numbers are dropping, there's no belief that child abuse is dropping,” Hays said.

Board games might help reduce stress and anxiety, and give parents and children a chance to be together and enjoy one another's time.

“Kids are struggling being at home. It is just an attempt to show people the community cares, and that we are here for them and, ultimately, reduce the likelihood of child abuse,” said Hays.

The games and kits used in the center's Play Safe, Stay Safe initiative were either donated or purchased with donations.

Hays said the center has put a wish list on the Amazon and Target websites. People can buy games and send them to the center, send gift cards to the center, or send money to buy games.

There are plans to bring the Play Safe, Stay Safe initiative to future lunch distributions in the Butler and South Butler school districts.

In the meantime, Hays said, the alliance is continuing to work through the pandemic, conducting forensic interviews and connecting victims to doctors and mental health providers and other services.

“We've had to prioritize because the center is so small,” Hayes said. “We are working remotely to follow up with families and our investigating partners.”

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Eric Freehling

Eric Freehling

Eric was born in Butler and grew up in Winfield Township. He graduated from Knoch High School and later Indiana University of Pa. with a degree in Journalism. After working as a reporter and editor with the Kittanning Leader-Times, he moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where he worked at The Pantagraph newspaper as a copy editor, page designer, reporter and business editor. Freehling later worked at the Houston Chronicle as senior copy editor and the Chicago Tribune as a copy editor on the business desk. He moved back to Pennsylvania in 2010 and joined the Butler Eagle as Community Editor in January 2011.