Beyond the classroom and into the community

Th adventures of a Prairieland United Way student intern (adventures edition #2)

In this series of articles, I visit community organizations with which the Prairieland United Way is affiliated to learn about the history of that organization, how it is run and how the organization helps the community. (From the first article, printed 12/23/2021)

By Julie Butler

Up next on our voyage are the Crisis Center Foundation (CCF) and the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). These organizations specialize in services for victims of violence—the CCF for domestic and the CAC for child abuse.

At the Crisis Center Foundation, I was able to meet with Dona Leonard and learn more about these services. The CCF currently serves four counties and offers services such as walk-in resources, a 24/7 hotline for crisis intervention, counseling, advocacy and legal support. The CCF also offers shelter when necessary, having a 14-bed emergency shelter that is of no cost to those in need. The impact these services have on those that utilize them can be life changing. For example, there was a woman who was being abused that came into the CCF shelter with her two children. She wasn’t quite ready to move on from her abuser, but she was ready to make changes. It took the woman several months to come back to the CCF and prepared to leave her abuser. Once she took that step, however, she was able to find a job, be placed in subsidized housing, and receive counseling for herself and her children. Although it took a while for the woman to be ready to move on, those services were available to her when she was ready. Leonard believes this to be the key to their services offered. It takes some domestic violence victims longer to leave than others and trying to force them to leave can cause more damage.

At the Children’s Advocacy Center, I met with CAC Coordiator Jamie Peek and got a behind the scenes look at services that the CAC offers. There are numerous resources that are offered to not only the children that are victims of abuse, but also to families of the victims. Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), law enforcement, the state’s attorney office and mental/medical health representatives all work together for cases of children’s abuse and neglect. Peek herself will often stay as advocate for the family through any investigations that occur. She calls herself the “middle person,” as she communicates to the family what different resources are available to them and the victim of the abuse. The main goal through this process is for there to be the least amount of trauma as possible for the child. It can be hard for a child to tell the same, awful story 10 times in a row, so Peek lessens that pain by advocating for the child when needed. A case that occurred around two years ago shows the severity of the need of these services. Involved in the situation were a 15-year-old (F), 12-year-old (M) and 10-year-old (F). Both of the girls were being sexually abused by their step-father. He would take them to hotels and make them perform sexual acts on each other. The youngest daughter experienced a lot of anger during this time and even had to be hospitalized because of the trauma of the experience. The oldest daughter was also very traumatized, but she had formed an emotional attachment to the step-father and saw him as a boyfriend figure. She was able to recognize that what he was doing with her younger sister and what the sisters were doing together was wrong, but she believe the relationship formed between herself and him was okay. It took almost two years to get through the court process, and after it was over, the girls required intense therapy. Peek felt deeply about the situation of this case and felt it was important for people to realize that these processes take a long time to overcome and there are usually lasting affects on the children who are abused or neglected.

It is important the remember that although it can be hard to acknowledge that it is necessary for services such as these, it is pertinent to know these organizations are available in Jacksonville for anyone who may need them. To contact the Crisis Center Foundation, call 217-243-4357 (hotline), 877-243-5357 (toll-free) or 217-243-4357 (business). The Morgan County Children’s Advocacy Center may be reached at 217-617-5346.

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