Child advocacy group needs community's help



Child Enrichment is Georgia's first Child Advocacy Center, and one of the first CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) programs in the state. Both programs serve abandoned, abused, neglected and sexually abused children from our local region.

I have been directly involved with the Child Advocacy Center of Child Enrichment. I have served in several capacities throughout the years -- board member, advisory committee member, financial donor, vice president, president-elect and president of the board. With this level of involvement, I have seen firsthand the importance of this organization's work in our area. I am presenting this information to convey a need, and to ask for your help.

Child Enrichment's origins grew out of the need for abused children to have a safe place to stay. The emergency shelter was created in 1978, and closed in 2007. Georgia, as many states have, moved away from institutional and residential programs. Although Child Enrichment's shelter was nothing like an institution, the state chose to place children with foster parents, guardians, relatives and fictive kin (someone not related who can care for the child), rather than in emergency shelters.

Child Enrichment Inc. was formed to assist abused children and help them overcome their experience and rebuild their lives. More than 15,000 local boys and girls, all victims of abuse or severe neglect, have been helped since 1978. Today, Child Enrichment's programs -- the Child Advocacy Center and CASA -- provide vital services for the children in our community, and desperately need your help to continue fulfilling this mission.

PRIMARY SERVICES currently offered include counseling; court advocacy; expert court testimony; prevention education programs; and finding safe, loving homes for abused and neglected children. Because these services are free of charge, Child Enrichment relies on support from volunteers and donors to ensure that all child victims receive the help they need.

Last year, Child Enrichment served 714 children from Burke (54), Columbia (219) and Richmond Counties (392), with 49 abused children from other areas also being served.

In addition, 304 of their non-offending parents and caregivers received counseling and education to help the children recover from the abuse they suffered.

The CASA program worked to find safe, permanent homes for 330 children. As each abused and traumatized child is evaluated, staff members work tirelessly to provide the best intervention to help them recover and progress to the normal childhood they deserve.

It is difficult to convey the critical and urgent nature of the work being done by Child Enrichment, but I must try. It is that important.

Just imagine looking into the eyes of an abused child and hearing their emotional account of the abuse and torture that they have endured, sometimes for years. That is what the staff of Child Enrichment does every day, because they believe that, when a child recovers, the world is a better place -- idealistic, yes, genuine, absolutely. When a child no longer blames themselves, when they can sleep through the night without panic or terror, and when they can begin to feel good about themselves, this represents the outcome that Child Enrichment is working toward.

While Child Enrichment is a charity -- one of the fine, accredited, accountable nonprofit organizations serving the Augusta area -- it is much more. I dare say that Child Enrichment services are critical to this community. Rescuing, evaluating, providing safety and oversight for abused children are all critical.

The $1,000 per child invested through this organization saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. The cost associated with abused children not receiving services is crime, violence, suicide, drug use and prison sentences. Investing in these victims not only is morally right and decent; it is imperative.

A SIGNIFICANT SIDE benefit of Child Enrichment's services that also needs to be understood is that for each convicted sex offender of children in the region, in the vast majority of these cases Child Enrichment provided expert witnesses and forensic interviews of the child victims, which were critical to the prosecution of pedophiles and predators who were ultimately convicted, right here in our community.

Many organizations such as Child Enrichment throughout the United States are fully funded by state and local government. Child Enrichment receives less than 11 percent of its funding from the state of Georgia and less than 4 percent of its funding from local government.

I offer this information for you to understand the importance of the situation, the critical nature of the services provided, and to ask for your help. All charities are under great pressure today to secure the funding necessary to continue their work. The word "necessary" is the key component of my appeal to you. I believe that few things can be deemed more necessary and important than protecting children, and helping those who have been abused to fully recover.

Please, if you are able, monetary donations are needed urgently to keep the mission of Child Enrichment going. Victimized children can and do recover -- yet, to do so they need the specialized services which only Child Enrichment provides in our region.

The current board of directors and staff of this fine organization have worked diligently in pursuing this mission, as did the hundreds of previous staff and board members for more than three decades. Can you help? My greatest hope is that you become an annual donor to this fine organization for years to come.

(The writer is an Augusta businessman and developer.)