FRANKLIN, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) – Montgomery County has averaged more than 3,000 child abuse investigations each year, over the past few years.
After the death of their own child, one family wants to help others through a special foundation designed to support county services.
Rylee Sellars was 22-months-old when she died from blunt force trauma in November 2013, and her mother’s boyfriend, Jesse York, was sentenced to 15 years to life last March. He was babysitting her at he time of her death.
Sunday, the 4th annual Rylee Memorial Event was held at JD Legends. The fundraiser benefits Montgomery County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), who volunteer and help children and families through the court system, as well as give victims a voice.
“Through our tragedy, my oldest daughter was temporarily taken,” said Helen Thompson, Rylee’s mom. “That’s where CASA kind of played a role for us. They got her back into my family, to where she needed to be as quickly as possible for her and I to be able to grieve the loss of Rylee together.”
“We started this foundation as just a part of healing ourselves and walking through our own journey,” Rylee’s aunt Billie Smith said. “So now we just want to inspire that hope in the midst of other people’s heartaches. When you walk through stuff, just know someone’s got your back.”
Described as a “tight-knit” community, hundreds of people flowed through the fundraiser. Owner Wasfi Samaan isn’t surprised. His business offered the space for the event, knowing Helen for years.
“I think her first job after that incident was here, so right away we were involved,” he said. “It’s a sad story. It’s also a great way for people to support.”
With so many cases, CASA volunteers are in short supply. There’s also a push for more diversity, with the program welcoming its first Native American volunteer according to manager Jane Novick.
“We continue to have more Latinos, more African Americans and more men,” she said. “A lot of these children have never had a positive male role model.”
The group hopes that with more awareness, more people will step up to volunteer and help kids going through the court system. This May, the program will also swear in its largest class ever.