For Hanna Roth, the issue of child abuse is personal: "I remember when I was about 2 years old looking up at my parents as they took turns beating me."
The emotional, physical and sexual abuse Roth suffered at the hands of her parents and other family members continued well into her teenage years. Now it's a big part of why Roth helps run the Rainbird Foundation, a local organization committed to ending child abuse.
Rainbird, which began two years ago, is not a service organization that works with abuse victims directly. Rather, the foundation aims to fund research and projects, ranging from public education, political and law enforcement reform, and the study of ways to end patterns of abuse.
Roth, the organization's founder and birdherder-in-chief, has been a business coach and author of two books. The foundation is an all-volunteer effort run out of Roth's home with few expenses. It has a core staff of nine and dozens of additional volunteers, who work on research, fundraising, social media and other tasks.
Thus far, the foundation has funded only one project - a program in Jefferson County that serves the direct needs of children taken out of their homes. Rainbird is focused on building an infrastructure for the future.
"We are establishing our criteria for funding, and we're studying organizations for funding consideration, to identify those making a real difference towards ending child abuse," says Roth. She and her team are building the fundraising department and expect to have several avenues for raising funds beginning in 2012.
"Our most critical current priority is to build a sound business structure and a solid core philosophy and message," says Roth.
On July 31, the Rainbird Foundation will sponsor its second annual 1,000 Mile Journey, a fundraising event. Last year's inaugural event drew close to 500 people. This year's goal is to have at least 1,000 people collect pledge money to walk a one-mile route around the state Capitol to take a public stand for the end of child abuse.
This year the event will take on a carnival-like atmosphere, with a bouncy house and other fun things to do, along with educational opportunities. "It is our goal to host this event in every state throughout the country," says Elisabeth Norton, Rainbird's chief operating officer.
Madison-based Briarpatch will hand out information about its services, which support teens and families. Carly Riepe, a member of the Briarpatch Street Outreach Team, is one of the guest speakers at the event.
"Rainbird is relentless in its effort to end child abuse, and its projects are the most direct way to reach that goal," Riepe says. "The 1,000 Mile Journey is an excellent way to bring this critical issue to light."
Reach a Child, another Madison nonprofit, will distribute children's books. The organization provides children's books to kids in various crisis situations through police, sheriff, EMT and firefighting departments.
"We, as adults, have an obligation to the next generation and the youth of this country to provide the opportunity to become successful and to share with them the educational opportunities that will lead them in that direction," says Paul S. Gilbertson, cofounder of Reach a Child.
The Riverview Center, an Iowa-based organization that provides domestic and sexual assault services, will also participate in the event along with several other organizations. CEO Josh Jasper will also speak.
Roth started thinking about a foundation dedicated to the end of child abuse 20 years ago while living in California. She's always been frustrated that child abuse isn't represented by an organization as visible as the American Red Cross, Susan G. Komen or Habitat for Humanity.
"This is unacceptable," she says. "We need to expose the issue, and the people and organizations who contribute to the persistence of child abuse."
The foundation is named after the Zuni Indian word for hummingbird, which was prayed to for rain. When the rain came, the Zuni called the bird the Rainbird.
"We thought naming our organization The Hummingbird Foundation sounded weird," says Roth, "so we decided to go with Rainbird."
Trying to quantify the severity of child abuse is difficult because each state has its own method of reporting statistics. The most recent Wisconsin stats, from 2009, say there were 29 reported cases of abuse or neglect per 1,000 children.
Roth says the actual incidence of abuse is much higher than that.
"Hundreds of thousands of children are slipping through the cracks each year in this country due to overworked state employees, underfunding and a host of other reasons. But the real reason is priority. We have not made our children a real priority. We need to have our finger on the pulse of the problem now."
The Wisconsin Legislature recently passed a bill that extended the mandatory reporting rule to all school personnel. SB-42 mandates "training in child abuse and neglect identification, laws and procedures." The bill was prompted by an incident at a Racine school, where abuse observed by a teacher's aide was not properly reported.
Rainbird Foundation is working on four projects. The Statistics Program will provide current statistics in the same year they occur. The Watchdog Program will help all people safely report abuses or oversights via phone, computer or cell phone app to provide the information needed to save children who are being lost in the system.
The Leadership Training Program helps those with good ideas for ending child abuse turn the ideas into viable projects. And the Public Service Announcement Project provides a global conversation for ending child abuse. A new two- or three-minute PSA airs monthly on the Rainbird website.
Roth, a mother of two grown children, ended the cycle of abuse and raised her kids in a loving, supportive home. She's committed to the possibility of full recovery, and her life is a testament to that.
"I'm not a victim or survivor. Those kinds of words anchor us to our past. It happened, but I'm not defined by it."