HAPPY BEAR: Program teaches kids to stay safe | #childabuse | #children | #kids

Judy Johnson and Happy Bear visited Noah’s Ark Preschool in Great Bend this week, finishing their schedule for the 2020-2021 school year. Johnson is the director of Child Abuse Prevention Education (CAPE) and Happy Bear is the shy, lovable mascot that accompanies her on her presentations to young children.

“Last September I didn’t think we’d be allowed in the schools,” Johnson said, looking back at pandemic restrictions. However, she was able to visit 21 attendance centers with only two cancellations due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

CAPE serves approximately 3,000 children from preschool through grade 6 each year. There is no charge for the programs, which are presented in public and private schools throughout Barton County and in other locations including Wilson, Chase and Larned.

The youngest children meet Happy Bear for an interactive presentation where they help Johnson teach their new friend about good, bad and helping touches.

Johnson told a story where she was being a “bad bear” and wanted to get ahead of Happy Bear on the playground, so she pinched him. “A pinch is a bad touch,” Johnson told the preschoolers.

 “They hurt you on the outside and they make your heart feel so sad.” There are also good touches, like hugs and holding hands, and helping touches that may come when an adult helps a child wash up in the bathtub or when a doctor gives a shot.

In the case of bad touches, Happy Bear learns to say “NO,” to get away quickly and to tell a trusted adult.

Mary Johnson, a retired Registered Nurse, wears the Happy Bear costume and accompanies Judy Johnson to programs for children in preschool, kindergarten and first grade.

Older students in grades 2-6 receive age-appropriate presentations that include a discussion of types of abuse, a video and a summarizing discussion of the story. Four types of abuse – physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect – are addressed in the presentations for older students. CAPE’s goal in every presentation, for all students, is that they feel empowered, brave and strong, sponsors said. CAPE wants them to know that an adult is willing to listen and to help.

Annually, an average of 17 students report an incident to a school official after attending a CAPE presentation, according to the nonprofit organization’s brochure.

If someone touches you inappropriately, Johnson told the preschools, “the first thing you need to do is say, ‘No! Don’t touch me that way.’” Run away to a safe place and then tell someone. “If you tell someone and they don’t help you or they don’t believe you, you need to keep on telling.”

About CAPE

Child Abuse Prevention Education (CAPE) is a community coalition dedicated to supporting the prevention of child abuse. Originally known as Ourselves & Our Families, it began in 1984 with an emphasis on educational programs.

CAPE is a 401(c)(3) non-profit organization and relies on funding from the United Way of Central Kansas (uwck.org) and the generosity of donors. For more information send an email to happybearcape@gbmail.com or call Johnson, 620-792-7177. Donations earmarked for CAPE may be mailed to UWCK, 1125 Williams St., Great Bend, KS 67530.

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