WINTERSVILLE - The waiting room at A Caring Place house is warm and comfortable, filled with stuffed animals and toys.
The child advocacy center is designed to help children relax.
According to Mary Ann Donnelly, its director, the child advocacy center is a place for children to be heard.
A CHILD ADVOCACY CENTER — A Caring Place was created in 2002 and continues operating today with financial assistance of donations, grants and contributions from the United Way of Jefferson County. Standing at the agency’s sign were, from left, Vicki DeLeonardis, president of the agency’s board of directors; Mary Ann Donnelly, director of A Caring Place; and Cynthia Morris, treasurer of the board of directors. - Dave Gossett
"Our basic service is the videotaping of interviews with children who may have suffered abuse or witnessed abuse for law enforcement and children services. We also provide a setting where a child who may have been sexually abused can be examined in a quiet and confidential medical setting by an expert physician," explained Donnelly.
"The stuffed animals are here for the children. Sometimes it comforts them to hold a stuffed animal when they are interviewed or examined. And when the child is done they can take the stuffed animal home with them," Donnelly said.
A Caring Place is one of 18 member agencies of the United Way of Jefferson County, which is currently working toward a $440,000 campaign goal for 2013.
"We grew out of a team effort started in 1995. At that time several county agencies and offices created the Jefferson County Multi-Disciplinary Team to coordinate and communicate more efficiently in all child abuse cases. We put together children services, various law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor's office and mental health agencies in a step toward working together for the benefit of the children and their families. We started with a $35,000 grant from the National Children's Alliance," Donnelly explained.
"If one of our county agencies has an alleged child abuse case, the child and appropriate family members are sent to A Caring Place. That is where trained interviewers can sit down in a private and confidential setting to talk to the child and then to the family members," Donnelly said.
"Prior to our opening of A Caring Place, a child would usually be interviewed at children services in a more institutional setting. They would then be taken for a physical or mental examination and then be sent for another interview with the involved law enforcement agency. That child could very well go through yet another interview later on with someone from the prosecutor's office," Donnelly explained.
"The justice system can be very difficult at times. Our job is to make it a little easier. We try to soften the blow for the victims. And the United Way of Jefferson County is so important for us to do our job," she noted.
"We are very fortunate to receive the United Way funding. This is an economically depressed area these days and everyone has fundraisers. That is why being a member agency of the United Way is so important. We now offer several different programs, and the United Way of Jefferson County will contribute $7,000 to our efforts this year. It is a vital help that allows us to continue our efforts to help abused children and their families," added Donnelly.
"And in addition to the funding assistance, the United Way helps us to get the word out about A Caring Place. They provide great publicity. We are a small organization. The United Way funding also helps us with our annual pinwheel campaign. The United Way is part of everything at A Caring Place," Donnelly remarked.
"It takes a community to raise and protect a child. The United Way helps us to raise and protect the children of our community," said Donnelly.
"It has been an honor to have been chosen by the United Way of Jefferson County as one of the 19 agencies. Mary Ann is the only paid employee. Our five- member board is all volunteers, so virtually all proceeds go back to A Caring Place," cited board of directors Treasurer Cynthia Morris.
"Our board of directors contribute in different ways. But Mary Ann is the helm of the ship. She brings us all together to make it work with the help of the United Way," cited Vicki DeLeonardis, president of the board.
"Mary Ann is our only paid employee, but she also volunteers many, many hours. She is always participating in United Way events. She spends a lot of hours as a volunteer," DeLeonardis said.
According to Ame Taggart, interim executive director of the United Way of Jefferson County, "Unfortunately there has been and will continue to be cases of child abuse, and A Caring Place provides a safe and comfortable environment for those cases. They are doing a great job. We are glad A Caring Place is one of our 19 member agencies."