18 Sep D-Braves join in fight to find missing kids
By Michael Livingston, GoDanRiver.com
Samantha Clarke, Shimeaka Gibson and more than 360 children are missing from Virginia — and during their season this summer, the Danville Braves helped to raise awareness about them.
Clarke and Gibson were two of the four missing children seen on a wooden A-frame at Legion Field this past season.
The 2016 season was the first for the Braves’ partnership with the Bairfind Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding children who have been reported missing.
Two of the four missing children on the sign were found, according to a Danville Braves news release. Peter Van der Linden from Stafford was found July 27 and Maria de los Angeles Avendano Ramos from Petersburg was found Sept. 3.
“When a child goes missing, we should not look away out of fear,” Dennis Bair, founder and chief development officer of Bairfind, says on the organization’s website.
“We should recognize it as a challenge, and do whatever we can to take part in the search, and rise to the challenge of safely locating the child.”
Bairfind is one of the official charities of Minor League Baseball, said David Cross, general manager for the Danville Braves. The families of missing children have thrown the opening pitch at several minor league teams’ games.
The wooden A-frame signs are what Bairfind calls its Concourse Sign Project. The signs are generally placed near the front gate, said Danville Braves media relations trainee Betsy Haugh.
“One of the main things about our program is it depends on the fans,” Bair said.
The Concourse Sign Project has been implemented at 139 minor league teams’ stadiums with more than 500 missing children displayed — and 160 of those children have been located, Bair said.
Bair, who spent nine years in the minor leagues, said he came to understand the power that comes when “thousands of people could see” the missing children signs. Each sign features children from the region they were originally from.
Bair, a former minor and major league pitcher, developed his passion for finding missing children while playing professional baseball.
“I had experience and knowledge about searching for missing children” and wanted to expand his efforts, Bair said.
From 2001 to 2010, Bair and his team gave out profiles of missing children at minor league teams’ stadiums.
In 2011, Bairfind became an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and forged a brief partnership with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bair’s hometown team.
Gina DeJesus was featured on Bairfind’s signs and website throughout the years. Bair remembers taking her family to do the opening pitch for several minor league games.
When she was found in 2013, the entire Bairfind team was relieved. Not just because one of the hundreds of thousands of children were safe, but because it gave their cause national recognition.
Bair called each team’s general manager after getting the designation of an official charity for minor league teams in December 2015.
“There’s never a good reason to stop” looking for missing children, Bair said.
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