Tuesday night was lit up by candles to honor victims of crime and child abuse at a vigil held at Hendricks Chapel.
The McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center also recognized an advocate and a Syracuse Police detective for their work in the community.
Reading a poem about survival during the vigil, Maria LaRosa, 18, says she wanted to stand up and speak up for victims so they can become survivors like her.
“You are not abused and you are not what they did to you,” LaRosa read at the podium. “You are not your trauma and you are the cleverness that survived. You are the courage that escaped and you are the power that hid and protected a tiny spark of your life.”
LaRosa says a troubling experience brought her to the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center last summer.
“When it first happened, the first thing that came into my mind was that no one was going to believe me and that I was basically going to have to go through this all by myself,” LaRosa said.
At first, she had feelings of pain, sadness and confusion.
“I’m not giving him that power anymore,” LaRosa said. “I am taking it back.”
But LaRosa was not alone.
She says everyone who was working on her case believed in her.
“I’m a voice for everyone else who’s scared to speak up,” LaRosa said. “Because not every person my age or even younger gets the justice they deserve and I was lucky enough to get that.”
LaRosa, who graduated from high school early, says she is now focusing on her career in cosmetology.
“I’m definitely learning to move on from it and get the closure that I need and kind of start the next chapter of my life,” said LaRosa.
The month of April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center offers various ways people can raise awareness and funds for programs.
Placing blue pinwheels in your yard is one way to show awareness.
The center’s Third Annual Pinwheel Ball is set for Saturday, April 8, at The Oncenter. Tickets can be purchased here.