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Los Angeles resident Dawn McCoy has always had a heart for service, so when life dealt her a potentially devastating hand, she knew how to turn to hope. McCoy’s son, Waylon, has physical and mental disabilities brought on by trauma sustained by abuse when he was just 6 weeks old.
“As mothers, we are all told how to be on the lookout for weight loss or fevers in our babies, but no one tells us to look out for bruises and evidence of abuse,” McCoy said. “We have no idea this is even a possibility. While this is the happiest time in a parent’s life, we must use that rare, short time when they’re in the hospital – and we have them as a captive audience – to talk about the warning signs of abuse, the first being [that] a newborn baby should never have a bruise. Never.”
McCoy starting the nonprofit Loving Way, named in honor of her son, which aims to help spread awareness, visibility and advocate for victims of child abuse.
“[We also want to] bring joy – some ‘little happies,’ as we call them – into the lives of our fellow child abuse survivors and families,” she added.
So respected has McCoy become on the subject, she moderated a panel discussion in West Hollywood on April 11 entitled “The Crusade Against Child Abuse.”
In her career, she’s appeared in film like “Miss Congeniality” and “Christmas Sweethearts,” she’s been a makeup artist, a host, writer, humanitarian, public speaker, singer/songwriter, and, most uniquely, Barbra Streisand’s personal shopper. Service, however, has always been the central focus in McCoy’s life. She has been an ambassador and volunteer for Unite4Good, No Kid Hungry, Step Up Women’s Network, Holton’s Heroes, Adopt Together and Dress For Success, among others. She said that it all started with her family in her home state of Texas and the Episcopal School of Dallas.
“I took the importance of service to heart – so much so that at the end of high school, I won the community service award and received a leadership scholarship to college. I’ve carried that sense of service – and need to activate – with me for my entire life,” she said.
She was a cheerleader, a “theater kid” and vice president of student council, and she said two teachers, Mrs. Mrozek and Mr. Kimball, encouraged her “to write from that place where my head and heart met to create work that I’m still proud of.”
Additionally, she describes both her mother and her maternal grandmother, “Nanny,” as inspirations.
“[Nanny] was always of service to others and was so generous, loving and non-judgmental,” McCoy said. “Even though she only was able to complete the eighth grade before having to work the cotton fields of Oklahoma, she had more wisdom in her tiny 5-foot-1-inch frame than most people I’ve ever met. My beautiful mother taught me how important it is to be able to take care of yourself and your children and to find the beauty in the simple, everyday things like lovely dishes on the table. It sounds silly, but those kinds of simple joys are what have gotten me through the most terrible of times.”
McCoy ventured into her own nonprofit space eight years ago when she started the Dear 15 Me movement “to instill confidence in teens and improve communication between adults and teens.”
So, when Waylon’s trauma presented a unique challenge for McCoy, she knew how to respond. With Loving Way, McCoy not only speaks up for children and increases awareness surrounding child abuse, she advocates for stricter sentences for abusers, spreading education to families and doctors, and fighting for further public and media exposure on the issue.
“I think there are few things as important as sharing stories of abuse publicly, especially when sharing includes perspectives from all sides, the victim’s standpoint, the legal standpoint and the media’s standpoint,” she said. “Loving Way wants to bring child abuse awareness back into the forefront of the public eye so that child abuse doesn’t continue to be intubated in private. Keeping child abuse out of the spotlight leads to more abusers living in the shadows.”
McCoy also works to help victims find the joy in everyday life.
“We are launching a fundraising campaign for our summer program series, Loving Way Stays, [which are] relaxing, restorative respite getaways for our survivors and their families. Escaping to Palm Springs for work has been so healing for Waylon and me, and we want to share that experience with our fellow families,” she said.
One of McCoy’s biggest objectives is to redefine the word “happy” for parents by seeing through the eyes of these children.
“Many people go about their day in misery, dreading going to work or the people they have to be with. This is not Waylon. Waylon can find joy in the seemingly mundane – in spite of his daily struggle with blindness, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and severe developmental delays,” she said.
McCoy related that she was once told by the executive director of Partners for Pediatric Vision, Diane Christian, that people need “to get past the idea that ‘normal’ equals being happy.”
“As Way’s mother, I’ve come to see, and believe, that Way will be happy in ways that most of us could only dream of … perhaps just listening to Puccini … or tasting a yummy food … or staring up at the sky – however he ‘sees’ it,” she said.
McCoy said her son is able to see the world in a way most people cannot.
“He has made me see through a much clearer lens what life is really about. And life is so much more beautiful through his lens. More beautiful, and also easier in a way, even when our circumstances seem impossible to most,” she said.
To report incidents of child abuse anonymously, call (800)422-4453. To learn about and support Loving Way, visit lovingwayfoundation .org.
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