State and local dignitaries, law enforcement officials and child welfare professionals gathered Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the Southmountain Children’s and Family Services’ Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson Children’s Advocacy Center.
The center, the first of its kind in the Twin Counties, now is open at 116 N. Englewood Drive in Rocky Mount.
A tour of the new facilities revealed a bright, professional, child-friendly zone designed to put young victims of molestation and abuse at ease as they meet with experts and professionals who investigate the situations they have gone through, collect evidence and interviews and put young people and their families on the path of healing. Because so many professionals are gathered in one place, victims do not have to repeat their story as often.
Nash County Chief Deputy Brandon Medina was one of several speakers at the event. Medina now serves as the vice chairman of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of North Carolina.
“This journey started 18 months ago and here we are,” Medina said. “All these organizations are working together to help children and try to get them immediate assistance instead of having to transport them to Pitt or Wake county. They can now get all the help they need in one area.”
The Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson Children’s Advocacy Center will offer a range of services including forensic interview, medical examination and treatment, mental health services related to treatment of trauma, advocacy and support for victims and their families and community outreach and training designed to prevent such incidents in the future.
According to information provided by the center, one in 10 children will suffer sexual abuse before they turn 18 and 90 percent of child victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Females are five times more likely than males to suffer sexual abuse and only about 38 percent of young victims disclose their abuse.
The Child Advocacy Center in Rocky Mount is a program of Southmountain Children and Family Services, a nonprofit organization that usually serves counties in the western part of the state. However, Southmountain recently began to offer services in the eastern part of the state, starting Child Advocacy Centers in two other counties in the region in addition to the latest center that opened in Rocky Mount.
“We decided that we would start branching out to the eastern part of North Carolina because there is such a need for them here,” said Chris Jernigan, executive director of Southmountain Children and Family Services. “As we eased into this area, two old friends of mine, Jo Ann Lamm and Nancy Lamb, who is the assistant district attorney here, said, ‘If you are going to come to this area, you need to come help us in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties.’”
Because of Lamm’s efforts, Jernigan said the center in Rocky Mount affectionately would be known as “Jo Ann’s Place.”
Lamm said she was delighted to learn that the building would be nicknamed after her.
“I have always been involved in Child Protective Services,” Lamm said. “I started out in Nash County DSS, then I went to Wake County and then I was the state Child Welfare director. I am retired now and am the incoming chair of the Child Advocacy Centers of N.C.
“I knew that our children were having to travel long distances to get the services they need,” she said. “And I thought, ‘I know people who can help make this happen for us.’ So I got together with Chris and the stars lined up and the next thing I know we met with the associate district attorney and she said, ‘Let’s make this happen.’”
District Attorney Robert Evans also spoke at the event. Evans chairs the Governor’s Crime Commission, which is responsible for much of the funding for the center.
“When history looks at us, it all comes down to how we treat people,” Evans said. “Somewhere down the line, someone is going to look at this community and read about a child that was healed here — a child that came in shattered and walked away triumphant — and they are going to think well of this community.”