LEXINGTON – Madelyn Haring loves to play outside with her family, especially with her older brother and younger sister. So when the 9-year-old was asked to draw a picture of a place she feels safe, she naturally created that family fun scene.

That picture was selected as the winner in a Richland County Children Services (RCCS) billboard contest. Haring and her third grade classmates received a surprise pizza party at Central Elementary School on Monday.

The public child welfare agency invited every third-grade class in Richland County to participate in the annual Child Abuse Prevention Month contest, with the winning image going on six billboards around the area during May.

Haring smiled widely when she walked into her art class Monday to find boxes of pizza and her parents, grandparents and older brother, Micah Haring, 13, all waiting for her. Her family was notified in advance Madelyn Haring had won and they agreed to keep the secret.

“I was very surprised, especially when I saw my family here,” Madelyn Haring said. “It was awesome seeing them come here to see this.”

The soft-spoken youngster, who said art was her favorite class, was thinking of her family when she drew her winning picture.

“I was thinking how much fun we have when we are all together,” Madelyn Haring said. “We love to hang around together outside.”

The picture includes a bright sun, tall tree and children playing around it, as well as a child in a wheelchair. “My little sister, Megan (age 7), is in a wheelchair. She is a big part of our family, so she had to be in it,” Madelyn Haring said.

Her mother, Heather Haring, said Madelyn Haring’s artistic ability comes from her father, Kevin Haring, an industrial design artist. “She loves to draw,” her mother said.

“I was amazed (to hear she had won) because I didn’t even know she entered a contest. She is good at drawing, though,” Micah Haring said.

In addition to the pizza party, Madelyn received a $25 Target gift card. Her picture, along with 11 other entries, will be included in a special school-year calendar Richland County Children Services is designing. It will be distributed beginning in August.

The event was attended by RCCS Executive Director Patty Harrelson along with several other staff members, including caseworker Christine Lynch, who spearheaded the contest and made the presentation to Madelyn Haring.

Carl Hunnell is Public Information and Outreach Supervisor for Richland County Children Services.