“It’s hard to believe that we held our first Moonlight Walk four years ago, and realize how it has grown since that time,” said Suzanne Wisdom, executive director for Court Appointed Special Advocates.
The fourth-annual CASA Melisha Gibson Light of Hope Moonlight Walk will be held Thursday, Oct. 24, beginning at 7 p.m. The walk begins at the Bradley County/Cleveland Greenway, near Cleveland High School.
Melisha Gibson was just 4 years old when she died at the hands of abusive parents.
Her stepfather, Ronald Maddux, and birth mother, Wanda, were convicted in her 1976 death. Both have since died.
According to Wisdom, the Moonlight Walk was established as a memorial event in Melisha’s honor and as a fundraiser for CASA.
CASA represents abused children in the court system and was introduced in Bradley County in 2008. The organization operates through grants and community, including private funding and fundraising activities, according to Wisdom.
“CASA is a voice for children of abuse and gets them out of an abusive environment if necessary,” Wisdom said.
Laws regarding child abuse reporting were changed after Melisha’s story came to light.
“It’s been 37 years since Melisha’s death,” Wisdom said.
“Many changes have been made in the laws and our court system. CASA has been very active with helping children who are caught up in the court system through abusive parents and situations. Melisha’s case opened the eyes of many. CASA is dedicated to helping children. It’s our responsibility to protect the children of our community and by honoring her in memory, we can commit these special advocates and outfit them with the best tools and training possible,” Wisdom said.
Nationwide attention was brought to the case beginning that cool day in October, 37 years ago.
Christina Young, daughter of the late Dewey Chastain, who was a deputy at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, said the investigation into the events leading to the death of Melisha Gibson, “changed my father’s life.”
Dewey and his brother, retired Cleveland Police Department Lt. Danny Chastain, both became advocates in the fight against child abuse.
The Chastain family, as well as members of Melisha’s family, also take part yearly in the walk.
“The Melisha Gibson ‘Light of Hope’ Moonlight Walk is held in honor of her short life. Her story is one of Bradley County’s prolific tragedies in the sense that laws were changed. It was sad that it took a child of abuse losing their life to raise eyebrows of lawmakers to make these changes,” said Wisdom.
Typically, 500 or so local walkers participate. Civic organizations and churches, businesses and industry also form groups of walkers.
“Our numbers continue to climb,” Wisdom said.
According to Wisdom, CASA of Bradley County served more than 170 children during the past year, representing them in the court system.
CASA of Bradley County has also established itself in Polk County under the Ocoee Regional Family Advocates umbrella.
“We always can use an extra hand at CASA of Bradley or CASA of Polk,” Wisdom said.
“Anyone wanting to be an advocate for one of our most precious resources can do so by contacting our office,” she added.
For additional information regarding the Moonlight Walk, contact CASA of Bradley County at 716-1844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the CASA of Bradley County Facebook page and link to the Melisha Gibson “Light of Hope” page.