Perspective is interesting. Everyone thinks they have it. Sometimes though, it takes an event to have a deeper understanding.
I think that most people know that there is bad in the world. Poverty, hunger, abuse. It’s out there. I think that we also know that these things impact anyone, including those who are more vulnerable - children.
I, as well as my siblings, experienced these things as children. I have been on both ends of this scenario - in the middle of a tough life and then the recipient of care and support from extraordinary individuals.
When The Community Project, as an organization, was invited to tour the Children’s Advocacy Center, I was all in. I knew that they existed and helped kids from my knowledge of the Mardi Gras Ball, but that was about it. I knew I needed to know more.
The event was created to invite our community partners to be guests to have a tour and understand more about how much good the CAC was doing. Our local office located in Dillsboro serves 5 SEI counties! That is amazing!
When we arrived, I think we all immediately felt comfortable. The facility is set up like a home. You walk into an area that is set up like a traditional living space with an area for children to play. This was not what I was expecting - it was inviting and far from the clinical, sanitized space I was expecting. The majority of us were on the 2nd tour and enjoyed some conversations with the staff while we waited. It was eye opening for the forensic investigators to share part of the process with us. I know that there are children that suffer unimaginable abuse, every day. I quickly realized that I knew very little about the process of what they go through when that abuse was identified.
When it was our turn to tour, we were greeted by Shannon Perry. I think we all get vibes from people, and she was no different. She hadn’t explained her role yet, or what she did there, but I could tell that she was the right person for the job. She radiates warmth and light and love - the whole staff did… that’s the only way I can describe it. Imagining her and the other ladies being the person who would be helping countless children during their darkest times made me like they were in the right place.
She began by explaining what the children coming in have experienced and how they get the information needed to support assisting law enforcement with prosecution. The physical and sexual abuse, as well as severe neglect experienced by these kids is unimaginable. In some settings, a child will have to tell their story (imagine having to relive the trauma) multiple times. Tell it to the adult they first trusted with it, the police, the nurse/doctor if/when they examined, court officials… the list goes on. Imagining that they had to summon the courage to do this not once, not twice, but sometimes half a dozen times was gut wrenching. That’s when the staff shared that what was great about their intake process was that they are technologically advanced enough that their clients have to tell their story exactly one time. It’s video and audio recorded so that a child only has to explain what happened in that initial meeting. I felt an immediate sense of relief for those who have already and will continue to come through that door. Some of the stories that were shared with us on the tour were so horrifying, I had a hard time imagining that it would have to keep being repeated. Understanding the level of professionalism that they bring to the table brought me some peace while we were standing in these rooms that I knew had ‘witnessed’ so much.
They explained that not only are they helping these kids who have been through so much with the resources they need to heal and find justice, but a big component of what they do is outreach. Getting into the education system to advise teachers and staff how to identify, connect, and be the ‘safe person’ these kids need. Many of those who are abused have never known kindness. Never known safety. Never known that there were adults out there that didn’t want to hurt them. Hearing that immediately made me cry where I stood. The outreach and education part of what they do is so important. All adults who are in contact with kids need to have the knowledge and skills to be that safe person and advocate for the child who trusted them enough to share their story! They actually offer classes for any adult who wants to help, and we are looking to sponsor some in the future.
There was so much shared as we made our way through the building, which is much larger than it looks! Stories, statistics (which are terrifying to be honest), successes… It was a lot to take in. We ended the tour in a small room downstairs. In some ways, it was one of the most touching parts of the tour. It was painted yellow and was bright. There were several sets of shelves, and there were things that were organized by type. Toys, clothing items, blankets, backpacks, toiletries. At first glance, it might have seemed unimportant to some. It’s not though. Once a child is done with their interview, they are taken down there to get a toy, and oftentimes things that they need. Imagine that, suddenly, you are removed from maybe the only home you have ever known with nothing. Maybe it even happens at night. Does this room sound more important now? I immediately felt the gravity of what that space meant. As myself and the other ladies were standing there crying (again), Shannon shared that when she first got there and was sorting through these items she found a copy of a book called Safe in a Storm. It’s a children’s book that is essentially about having someone who cares about you and will keep you safe. It spoke to her and she tries to have copies available to hand out to all children who pass through those doors to let them know that they are safe now. That they are cared for and loved, and that their bravery in coming forward matters. Rachel Reynolds and I immediately knew we needed to get more books. And she, Andrea and I knew that we needed to see what we could do in the future to get more items for that room.
We ended the tour with a meal that I kind of picked at. It was a lot to take in. We all know there are needs out there, but the visit made it more real. I think that it is sometimes easy to not fully understand how great those needs actually are. Not understand how many children and families are impacted. Not understand the efforts being made by these outstanding individuals at the CAC. Not understand what we can do as individuals to help. We can all do our part here. Monetary donations. Item donations. A THANK YOU to the staff who share in these traumas with these kids. You don’t know what you don’t know and I am thankful to have had this chance to learn more about what we can do as a community to support and help protect those who can’t protect themselves.
Be on the lookout for future opportunities to partner with The Community Project and support the Children’s Advocacy Center. It is our mission to identify needs and unify like-minded individuals to grow our impact and we hope you will be a part of that.
Written By : Logan Carr