By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – When it comes to making children smile, Aware Central Texas believes the holiday time is good, but year-round is better.

More than 5,000 parents, children and child advocates attended Aware's second annual Christmas on the Farm at the Bell County Expo Center on Saturday.

Children dirtied their knees crawling through hay mazes, rode ponies and sat in Santa's lap atop a tractor for photos.

Proceeds from the event help Aware, a nonprofit advocacy group aimed at child abuse and neglect prevention, provide year-round courses in anger management, family mentoring, anti-victimization training, dating violence and Internet safety.

Two parents in a family of six, who requested to remain anonymous, said Aware made them better parents by organizing their lives to cope with stress from financial problems in a way that does not harm their children.

In addition, Aware also helped them receive clothing and housing supplies. The family said the free tickets they received through Aware to Christmas on the Farm made it possible for them to spend Saturday bonding with their children.

Many people associated with the event have personal connections. Six months ago, Nancy Lechuga, volunteer program manager, adopted three children affected by abuse from Child and Protective Services.

"It's something I've seen by having children, how it affects them and the extent of the reconstruction they need and can get with a good foundation," Lechuga said.

The event featured 30 attractions and vendors, along with more than 150 volunteers. Shoemaker High School's Family Career and Community Leaders of America made Aware their community service project this year.

This year's event drew 3,000 more attendees than in 2007. For more information on Aware Central Texas, call (254) 939-7582 or go to

Contact Victor O'Brien at or (254) 501-7468.

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