The Grayson County Children’s Advocacy hosted its annual Cattleman’s Ball dinner and fundraiser on Saturday night amid the final weekend of Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month.

The event was held at the Texoma Event Center in Denison and was attended by some 500 guests, who dined at round tables, danced to live music and bid on a host of auction items donated by sponsors and local businesses. Executive Director Britney Barker said a final tally of donations would not be known Saturday night, but organizers hoped to raise a record $100,000.

“What remains the same as every year, is that it’s for a good cause,” Barker said. “This is our only major fundraiser that we have, so it’s critical that we have this support. It’s going to help the children of Grayson County who need it most.”

Barker said the agency identified 459 child victims of abuse and neglect in 2017, and staff regularly meets with 30 to 45 children each week. The director said the funds raised through the Cattleman’s Ball do double duty, as they both qualify the organization as an applicant for certain financial grants and supplement those same grants when they’re awarded, but not quite enough to fully fund services and staff.

“We have forensic interviewers, we have family advocates, we have outreach programs, which go into schools and teach kids how to reach out if something is happening to them. We also have education for adults, so they can know how to recognize and report abuse, and we also have therapy services on site, as well. This money supports all of those services.”

First-time attendees Erica and Jason Melton said they were unaware of the CAC’s presence in Grayson County before the ball but saw its goal of raising money for youth services as a noble one and a wise investment

“It leads to improvements for the entire community,” Erica Melton said. “These kids learn from those kids, and if we can care for, educate and mentor these kids, we can be better for it.”

Barker said children who receive CAC services are largely the victims of sexual abuse, but also endure physical abuse and witness violent crimes.

“They’re vulnerable,” Barker said. “And most often — I’d say 90 percent of the time — it’s somebody they know and trust that’s abusing them.”

Though children are the primary victims, Barker said virtually all reports the agency receives are made by adults who have been told about the abuse by the child. That dynamic, Barker said, places an onus on adults to keep a watchful eye for signs of neglect and to notify officials when they recognize those signs or when a child makes an outcry.

“It’s really important that all of us feel empowered to make reports, because a lot of people have the belief that it’s not their job or not their place,” Barker said. “But truly, it’s the entire community’s responsibility to watch out for and take care of our children. They’re our future”