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Champions for Children

Rich McKay and a group of Buc players attended the “Champions for Children” breakfast Tuesday, throwing their support behind the Child Abuse Council’s efforts to stop abuse in our community

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Buccaneer DE Ellis Wyms helped raise funds for the Child Abuse Council's popular 'Kids on the Block' puppet program

Every year in Hillsborough County, more than 13,000 cases of child abuse are reported. That number is staggering enough, but experts estimate that twice as many incidents of abuse go unreported.

Reported or not, child abuse needs to be stopped. And so, on Tuesday morning, representatives of the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including General Manager Rich McKay, linebacker Ryan Nece, safety Jermaine Phillips and defensive end Ellis Wyms, joined the Child Abuse Council in raising funds to tackle this issue at the "Champions for Children" breakfast at Raymond James Stadium.

The Child Abuse Council has been operating in Hillsborough County for 25 years. It runs ten special programs in pursuit of a mission that includes preventing abuse before it occurs, stopping abuse that is already occurring and rebuilding the family after abuse.

One of the most successful programs run by the council is an educational puppet show for third, fourth and fifth graders called 'Kids on the Block.'

At the third-grade level, the program addresses what is and isn't physical or sexual abuse, and provides children who have been or are being abused an opportunity to reveal it and receive the help they need.

The fourth-grade program addresses violence in general and the dangers of prejudice, and offers advice on "stay-safe" behaviors like avoiding gang membership.

The fifth-grade program addresses school bullying from both the bully and victim's perspectives.

The Child Abuse Council also adds an extensive follow-up program that includes ideas for classroom activities, from puppet-making to creative dramatics. Perhaps the most important aspect of the program is the letters children write to their favorite puppets. These letters often reveal incidents of abuse or neglect in the children's own lives.

After the breakfast attendees watched a video focusing on the Council, its mission and the Kids on the Block program, McKay, who served as the keynote speaker, addressed the crowd.

McKay spoke about the cycle of abuse that is passed down from abuser to abusee, the sobering number of abuse cases in and around Hillsborough county and what we as a community must do to solve this most chilling of problems.

"It is up to us to give these children an opportunity to get out of the situation they're in," said McKay. "They can not do it alone. We must provide them with the resources and support to help them break out of the cycle of abuse."

The final speakers of the day were breakfast co-chairs Don and Leslie Jennewein. The Jenneweins delivered a heartfelt message to the assembled crowd of over 500 people about the need for funding and continued community support.

"We are all proud of our football team here in Tampa," said Mrs. Jennewein. "But can we say the same thing about being fourth in the state in reported cases of abuse? Are we proud of those numbers?"

The Jenneweins concluded the breakfast by asking everyone in attendance to pick up their pledge cards and contribute what they could, encouraging everyone to "help stop the tears." Longtime board member Cornelia Corbett, through the William Stamps Farish Foundation, had already promised a matching grant for the first $100,000 pledged.

If you would like more information on the Child Abuse Council or how to help fight this problem in our community, please contact Debbie Gavalas, Development Director at (813) 673-4646, ext. 224 or visit

the Council's web site.

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