Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Sylvania St. Joseph fifth grader raises awareness on child abuse


Gust Brothers Pumpkin Farm in Ottawa Lake donated 20 of the pumpkins that Abbey Pawlak painted and tied with a bow.

Jetta Fraser/The Toledo Blade / The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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When Abbey Pawlak decided to paint pumpkins to raise awareness about child abuse prevention, she selected the color blue.

"It's the color of bruises on a child's body," she said.

A fifth-grader at St. Joseph School in Sylvania, Abbey was motivated to make a difference after watching a music video about child abuse. She was touched to tears by the video, and watched it repeatedly.

About the same time, she and other fifth-graders at the school were looking for community-service projects as part of their preparation for confirmation.

Although some students do relatively short-term outreach efforts, such as stuffing envelopes for agencies, Abbey pursued a much more extensive project.

Inspired by her mother's suggestion that she do something with pumpkins, Abbey came up with the idea of painting the orange orbs of autumn an eye-catching, thought-provoking color: blue, the color of a bruise.

A trip across the Michigan state line to the nearby Gust Brothers Pumpkin Farm in Ottawa Lake proved fruitful. The Gusts were impressed with Abbey's plans and donated 20 pumpkins to the project.

"We said sure, this is a good cause," Terese Gust said earlier this week. She and her husband, Dan, and their four sons operate the business.

A table at the pumpkin farm displayed Abbey's painted pumpkins as well as a poster she made about child abuse prevention.

"The pumpkins were real cute. Each one was different. She did a lot of work," said Mrs. Gust, who still has one of the blue pumpkins on her porch.

Decorated with ribbon and handmade tags with messages such as "Children Deserve To Be Safe," the bright blue pumpkins were placed in the back of a wagon and pulled through Abbey's neighborhood. Abbey sold them to friends, neighbors, and relatives.

Last week, 10-year-old Abbey donated the proceeds of her efforts, a total of $565, to the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center.

"You are the coolest kid I've ever met," said Sarah A. Corpening, chief executive of the center after a teary-eyed Abbey provided details about her blue painted pumpkin project which could become an annual fund-raising event.

Abbey, who plays volleyball, basketball, and softball, is the daughter of Barb and Tony Pawlak of Sylvania. Abbey's 7-year-old brother, Luke, who attended the check-presentation ceremony last week, helped out, too. He let his sister use the wagon to make the rounds in the neighborhood.

Abbey's project "gives us hope," said B.J. Snavely, first vice president of the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center board. She will become board president in January.

Board members are anticipating that the agency could have a new location in the coming months. Plans call for the agency to consolidate its services into one location.

The center serves more than 20,000 individuals each year in the Toledo area. Its mission is to intervene and educate to reduce family violence through innovative, accessible services, education, and community collaboration.

What Abbey has done, Ms. Snavely said, shows others that one person can make a difference.

Abbey says she now has a motto to live by: "Spread the message. Children deserve to be safe."

Ms. Corpening described the girl as an inspiration, and told her "You have a made a difference in our world."

And that is just what Abbey set out to do with pumpkins and blue paint.

Contact Janet Romaker at, or 419-724-6006.

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