Trauma to triumph: Kenneth’s Army recognized for advocacy

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Making a point: Claire Ansbro-Ingalls talks at a Knox Town Board meeting about the mission of Kenneth’s Army. “A 5-year-old had to give his life for all of us to get together...He does come around and watch us,” she said.

BERNE — For turning tragedy into hope, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara honored East Berne resident M. Claire Ansbro-Ingalls who, as treasurer and event coordinator, is a founding member of Kenneth’s Army. The not-for-profit group formed in the wake of the murder of 5-year-old Kenneth White by his teenaged cousin. Both were Berne-Knox-Westerlo students.

The nine women selected from Santabarbara’s district for the Seventh Annual Women of Distinction Awards were honored Wednesday evening at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady.

“They chose me because of my big mouth,” Ansbro-Ingalls joked, after explaining that she’s accepting the award on behalf of the organization as a whole. “I’m not afraid to get up in front of people and talk.” 

Ansbro-Ingalls was living around the trailer where Kenneth had lived and had to explain Kenneth’s death to her grandson, one of Kenneth’s classmates, she said.

“There’s nothing worse than explaining to a 5-year-old, ‘Will Santa go to heaven? Will Santa go to heaven and deliver presents to Kenneth?’ I got those questions from a five-year-old,” said Ansbro-Ingalls. “It’s not easy.”

Kenneth’s Army has since used the grief from the kindergartner’s death to spread compassion and reform, she said.

“We were a group of angry residents who decided to take the anger out of it and do something positive,” Ansbro-Ingalls said this week of the group’s formation.

Its highest-profile victory has been helping to pass state legislation, dubbed Kenneth’s Law, in 2015 that gives police quicker access to Child Protective Services records with the aim of providing crucial information in scenarios where, according to Senator George Amadore at the time, “seconds matter.”

In addition to a vigil on each anniversary of Kenneth’s death, the group holds an annual motorcycle run to raise funds for its bevy of yearly initiatives, including: donations to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple’s Hilltown Christmas fund, a $1,000-dollar scholarship to a BKW senior pursuing studies in human services, “adoption” of an underprivileged family each Thanksgiving, “adoption” of an underprivileged kindergartner at BKW every year, and donations to Kenneth’s two surviving sisters, who were recently adopted

The group has also donated to libraries and families affected by fires. “Wherever we see a need, we’re there,” said Ansbro-Ingalls.

Still, “Our main purpose is to remind people that child abuse is rampant,” she explained.

According to a 2014 report by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 702,000 children are abused each year. In 2014, more than a thousand children died from abuse. Those who survive are more likely to develop mental illness, struggle with substance abuse, and commit suicide.

“It’s the lowest form of our human nature,” lamented Ansbro-Ingalls of child abuse. 

On why people abuse children, Ansbro-Ingalls pointed to a host of factors: poverty, mental illness, lack of accountability. 

“When we have [people’s] attention for the moment we’re speaking, they’re all for us,” Ansbro-Ingalls said. “Then they go home to their normal lives and it’s forgotten until the next child abuse case comes about.” 

Ansbro-Ingalls stressed that it’s important to speak up when abuse is seen, or even suspected. 

“It’s better to say something and be wrong than to say nothing and be right,” she explained, adding that Kenneth’s Army has resources for those contemplating making a report.

And to those who are at risk of perpetrating abuse: “Please get help,” said Ansbro-Ingalls. “We will help you get help. We will do anything we can because, at one point, they were children too.”

More Hilltowns News

  • The United States Postal Service had issued flyers earlier this year about a potential relocation and was seeking input from the community about what sites might be suitable. 

  • The Carey Institute for Global Good had jettisoned much of its core programming during the pandemic years while it figured out its own future. It has now changed its name to Hilltown Commons, and partnered with three different local organizations that now call its Rensselaerville campus home. 

  • Over his nine-plus years as Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s superintendent, Timothy Mundell has led the district through significant challenges, helping to establish a much stronger foundation for the next superintendent than he had coming in. 

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