Greencastle couple seeks to help victims of child abuse

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
CJ Barnhart, left, and Bob and Michelle Spessard, board members of BlueRibbons4Justice, are raising money to tackle child abuse. A bingo benefit will take place at the Greencastle American Legion on Sunday, March 23.

For four years Bob and Michelle Spessard have been spreading the news about the epidemic of child abuse. The Greencastle couple works through their organization BlueRibbons4Justice. Their latest efforts are directed toward getting a Children’s Advocacy Center established in Franklin County.

The Spessards were thrown into the cause not by choice.

“The first time we met our grandson, he was already brain dead,” said Bob.

The boyfriend of the infant’s mother beat and shook Justice, 4 1/2 month old son of their own son, who was in the Air Force. The Hagerstown, Md. abuser was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and will spend at least half that time behind bars.

After that traumatic day in January 2007, the couple entered the political arena and helped pass Justice’s Law in Maryland. Effective October 1, 2012, the maximum penalty for fatal child abuse increased by 10 years, and family and household members could also be prosecuted.

Now the grandparents want a center for children to receive one-stop services if they have been abused.

Children’s Advocacy Center

A Children’s Advocacy Center for Franklin County is at the top of the list for the Spessards. They have seen the one in operation in Gettysburg for Adams County residents. When a child comes in,  usually with a parent, to report abuse, representatives from many disciplines observe the forensic interview from behind reflective glass. Law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim’s advocacy personnel learn the details of the abuse situation and determine the immediate steps to be taken.

“The child won’t have to relive it by speaking to everyone separately,” said Michelle.

The two have been in ready contact with Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal, who supports a CAC in the county. He asked them to be on the fundraising committee, which they consider an honor.

Bingo

Several groups in Greencastle have partnered with BlueRibbons4Justice to hold a bingo fundraiser at Greencastle American Legion Post 373. Doors will open at noon on March 23, with the regular Bingo starting at 1 p.m. Themed baskets include Longaberger, Thirty-One and Coach. Other items and food will be for sale, with all proceeds going to an advocacy center and prevention of and awareness of child abuse. Tickets are for sale at the Legion, by calling 301-992-6871, or by email blueribbons4justice@gmail.com. They will also be available at the door.

Donna Kulpak, Chris Henry and Mary Jo Everetts are members of the American Legion Riders and the American Legion Auxiliary. Both organizations, as well as the Legion itself, joined the Spessards to host the event.

“This is one way the community can help. Play bingo and have fun doing it,” said Kulpak.

She encouraged people to buy their tickets early, since seating is limited to 150.

Fogal will speak at the event.

No free parking

The Spessards chuckle, because another four year project has taken root in Greencastle. They received permission from borough council to once again put blue ribbons on downtown parking meters in April in observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

In the beginning people thought the ribbons meant free parking. Now they know that is not the purpose.

“Everyone in town knows now,” said Bob. “We did get awareness out. We’re going to keep fighting.”

And they remember Justice through photographs and videos. On holidays and Saturdays Michelle visits his grave.

“That’s my connection to him,” she said of their first grandchild. They now have four more.

They are also pleased to see some fruits to their labors.

Said Bob, “We are convinced two people can make a difference.”

“Justice’s death was not in vain,” concluded Michelle.