Atlanta actor Owen Vaccaro lip syncs to raise awareness about abuse

The bright lights go on, the tape starts to roll and Owen Vaccaro and Ava Zagoria start to sing “Stand by You.”

“If your wings are broken, please take mine so yours can open too.”

It’s a powerful ballad that offers hope and pledges you’ll be there in times of trouble now and for as long as needed. Owen and Ava, friends since kindergarten, lip-sync their way through the popular Rachel Platten single while flashing child abuse facts on white signs.

Fact: One in 10 children will be sexually abused by age 18.

Fact: Every day, 33 Georgia children are the victims of confirmed abuse or neglect.

Fact: 99 children died in 2014 from abuse and neglect in the state.

I doubt Owen and Ava — at 10 years of age — know much about the message they seek to impart, but that’s not the point. The point is all of us, whether we have personal experience with child abuse or not, can do something to help raise awareness about the issue and thus help to prevent it.

April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, Ava and Owen, fourth-graders at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, joined forces recently with the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy to launch a national campaign — #WeStandTogether hashtag — that they hope will inspire kids of all ages to join the fight against child physical and sexual abuse.

The campaign officially kicks off Saturday on musical.ly.

It goes like this: People make a musical.ly video of themselves lip-syncing “Stand by You,” post it on Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites, and then challenge friends to do the same or make a donation to GCCA.

It started, as these things often do, one day while the friends’ moms, Kris Pinto and Alli Vaccaro, were brainstorming ways to get Ava and Owen to focus their attention outward and do something to help others.

“It would be cool if they did a lip sync battle for GCCA,” Vaccaro said to Pinto.

Pinto sits on the nonprofit’s board. It also helped that she founded Moxie, so she was pretty certain she could get the marketing agency to help with the rest.

The women began brainstorming a good song that they hoped would deliver the message they wanted to impart and came up with “Stand by You.”

“When we read the lyrics — if your wings are broken, please take mine so yours can open too — the idea just spiraled,” Vaccaro said.

The idea is to raise awareness about child abuse prevention by encouraging people to make their own videos, tag their friends and, with any luck, get celebrities to do the same, like the ice bucket challenge last year that raised funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, a neurological condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The ice bucket challenge went viral. They hope the lip-sync battle will, too, as Owen begins his publicity tour for “Mother’s Day,” the locally filmed movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson.

“Our hope is that with all the activities we have planned during April, everybody who has responsibility for children, personally or professionally, will learn how to protect the children in their lives,” said Sheila Ryan, GCCA’s CEO. “We don’t want any child to experience child abuse. We also want to make sure that we can provide the services children need when it happens.”

Each year, GCCA serves over 700 children who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse or have been witnesses to violence in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Here’s why you and the rest of us should care, said Ryan and Tiffany Sawyer, director of prevention services at GCCA.

When children experience abuse, they are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, experience depression, have eating disorders, and attempt suicide. They are also more likely to abuse others.

“This is not something that goes away in childhood,” Sawyer said. “It’s something they deal with for a lifetime if they haven’t gotten proper therapy or haven’t healed. If we’re not talking about this, children go unprotected. And adult survivors are shamed and can’t come forward because it is a taboo subject. Unless we come together as a community, people will continue to feel the shame, because they feel like it’s their fault. It impacts the entire community.”

But it doesn’t have to. We can bring an end to this scourge, and we can start now by standing by those who are hurting.

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