BRIDGMAN — Phones and other electronics present more problems than eye strain for children.
They also come with the risk of interacting with online predators.
That’s why the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force created KidStrong, an event gauged to get children away from their phones. More than 100 children and parents flocked to Haymarket Brewery on Thursday in the first hour for a 15-part obstacle course and free safety screenings.
Cathy Knauf, founder of the task force, said the nonprofit created the kid-friendly event in an effort to promote the dangers of human trafficking.
“We wanted to get kids off their electronic devices because that’s where predators lurk,” she said. “We also wanted to give them a place to go and have fun in a unique way. It was a way to kick off their summer vacation.”
Knauf said she wanted to pair the event with safety, which included a collaboration with All Star Family Chiropractic, the South Haven Blackwater Lions Club and Three Oaks Masonic Lodge No. 239.
Chiropractors were on hand to check children’s bones and alignment, the Masons conducted the Michigan Child ID program and Lions members held vision screenings.
Chris Takacs, community outreach director for the Michigan Masonic Charitable Foundation, was on hand to coordinate the screenings.
The Michigan Child ID screening included gathering still photos, collecting digital fingerprints and taking a short video to capture the child’s voice and mannerisms.
Afterward, parents were given a flash drive with all of their child’s information, including a kit to take home and conduct a dental impression test that can hold a child’s DNA for up to nine years.
Task force volunteers also passed out information about social media concerns and tips to have fun and stay safe outside the confines of school.
“We just want parents to be aware and proactive,” Knauf said.
Stevensville resident Ann-Marie Koss was at the event Thursday along with her 4-year-old daughter, Mariel.
Koss first learned about KickStart on social media and was surprised by the amount of obstacles and attendees.
“I like the brewery, I wanted to support the cause and we were close,” Koss said when asked why they drove to Haymarket. “It was more than I expected. I’m really glad I came and I wish I would have tried harder to get more friends to come.”
The obstacle course took over the field and space behind the Bridgman brewery.
Participants tossed rings, crawled through hoops and threw balls on their way to collecting a prize. The course was not timed as a way to make the event non-competitive.
The task force normally holds a 5K run each year. However, Knauf said they wanted to find a way to appeal to children as well.
Knauf said her organization was chosen as the charity of choice by Haymarket, so the pairing of the event came naturally.
Because the brewery doesn’t accept tips, money that’s left by customers is put into a collection bin and then given away to a local charity.
“This has been in the works for two months,” Knauf said. “We were not sure if we would get five kids or not. We’re excited by the turnout and hope it’s not the last one.”
Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski