Every April, Children’s Home & Aid’s Blue Bow Committee gives the Walton Blue Bow Award for significant contribution to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The name of the award honors Sue Walton, an educator and the founder of the Blue Bow Campaign at Children’s Home & Aid twenty-six years ago.
This year’s recipient is The Robert G. Cunningham Family. Receiving this award on behalf of the family is Peg Cunningham, who served on the Blue Bow Committee for over two decades! Peg represented the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office on the committee, where she worked for several years. She coordinated Blue Bow book drives for children, organized events to tie blue bows on trees at courthouses, and got judges involved in the campaign. She attempted to unite court systems in the Blue Bow Campaign and advocated for parent support programs like Children’s Home & Aid’s Parents Care & Share program. Peg also spoke to community groups to educate them about child abuse and neglect and solutions for families.
Peg’s father, the late Robert G. Cunningham, was also involved in the annual Blue Bow Campaigns. He financially contributed to the campaigns and included the company he owned, Midwest Cargo Systems, in the campaign by tying blue bows on his trucks. Peg attributes her passion for community service to her father. “He taught me that those to whom much is given, have much to give back to others,” Peg tell us. “And whatever I asked my dad to do for the Blue Bow campaign, he would always do it.”
Earl Kloppmann, the leader of the Blue Bow Committee, says, “Peg was an enormous help every year to our successful community Blue Bow campaigns. She always had new ideas for greater effectiveness, leveraged her many connections to enrich the campaign, and helped us make good decisions. Year in, year out, Peg was committed to the campaign.”
“The Blue Bow Campaign is important,” insists Peg. “For many years, child abuse was something people didn’t talk about. I’m old enough to remember seeing a child who had black and blue marks and someone saying don’t stare just look away. The Blue Bow Campaign gets the conversation started and makes society aware that abuse is not okay, that families need help, and children need to be protected, nurtured, and loved.”
“If there is one message that I want to communicate,” adds Peg “It’s that child abuse is a serious problem. It’s not okay to look away, brush it under the carpet, or assume it’s just a family’s problem. People and communities need to get involved.” Peg believes we have to keep at the message year after year. “Talk. Talk. Talk. Look people in the eye and say, ‘It’s not okay for children to be hurt. If you saw an adult being assaulted, you’d be up in arms and the police.’”
Peg says that one of the many results of the Blue Bow Campaign is that people are beginning to understand that this is not just a family problem but a community problem. It will take the involvement of the entire community to solve it. “The needle is moving forward, and I’ve seen changes in how teachers, law enforcement, and other agencies deal with abuse as they get better tools and more knowledge about the problem,” said Peg. Another strength of Child Abuse Prevention Month is that local Blue Bow events highlight community resources that are available for families. “It is important that families know there is somewhere they can go and get help, so the cycle doesn’t continue to repeat,” said Peg.
Peg believes one of the ways we can help everyone make a difference is by removing the stigma from child abuse so that it becomes as loud a conversation as any other pressing issues we face. “Then, children and families will feel able to reach out and get the help they need,” said Peg.