For Beverly "B. Kay" Van Es, the Thanksgiving spirit came walking down a sidewalk Tuesday afternoon.
The spirit arrived in the form of a middle-school boy who stopped outside her Wichita home and began talking with her husband, Jack, about the sign posted in their front yard. That sign is about me, he told the couple.
The experience resonated with Van Es because of the March death of a North Newton toddler, Vincent Hill. Vincent's death — what authorities have called a severe case of child abuse — jolted Van Es and another Wichita grandmother, Lily "Madrene" Hill, into action. Since then, their simple child-abuse-prevention message has spread around the nation.
Using their own money and donations, they have produced and distributed about 1,000 yard signs and more than 1,000 bumper stickers saying: "Be aware. Child abuse can be anywhere!!! Call 911."
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The signs and stickers have spread from Wichita to Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. A New York City woman wears one of the stickers on her purse.
Van Es said the signs' message is especially important now that the holidays have arrived. The 70-year-old woman is emphasizing the idea that the holidays' extra pressures can leave children susceptible to abuse.
Vicky Roper, an official with the Kansas Children's Service League, said, "We do know that increased family stress can be a risk factor for child abuse, and we know that
there can be increased family stress during the holidays."
The stress can be made worse by the added strain caused by waves of local layoffs and foreclosures.
Sometimes, the grandmothers' message hits close to home. That's what happened Tuesday.
The middle-school boy, walking down the sidewalk, saw one of the signs in front of Van Es' home and told Jack Van Es, "I like your sign."
"Oh, my wife does that," he answered. "She just gives them away for nothing."
The grandmothers welcome donations to help pay for printing and mailing the signs and stickers. They have a website for their campaign: yardsignsagainstchildabuse.com.
Beverly Van Es came out to talk with the boy.
"I was abused, but my mom got me out of it," he told her.
"Good for her," Van Es said.
"My dad broke my ribs," the boy said.
"Can I give you a hug?" Van Es asked him.
"Yes," he said.
"You made my Thanksgiving," she told the boy.
She and her husband gave the boy two signs and some stickers.
"He told me we made his Thanksgiving," she said. He said his mother would be happy to have one of the signs.
Vincent Hill's death — he was 19 months old — prompted Van Es and Hill (no relation to Vincent) to do something.
An autopsy found evidence that Vincent had been beaten and most likely suffocated.
Chad Carr, who had been the live-in boyfriend of Vincent's mother, faces a murder charge in Vincent's death. Vincent's mother, Katheryn Nycole Dale, was sentenced to more than three years in prison for child abuse and aggravated child endangerment.
One lesson of the death is the importance of calling 911, law enforcement officials have said. In January, more than two months before Vincent died, a neighbor reported to a state child abuse call center that she could hear a man yelling and a child screaming in the duplex next door, where Vincent lived.
But within about a day of receiving the report and without anyone from the state going to the address, the call center found no indication of physical harm and decided no more investigation was needed, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton has said.
If local police had received such a report before Vincent's death, they would have gone to the duplex to check on him, Walton said.
The value of calling 911 is that it gets an immediate response, Van Es said.
But she thinks people feel reluctant or intimidated about doing that.
She remembers what a Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy told her: He would "rather go out on 100 calls where a child was not being abused than miss the call where a child was being abused."