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September 3, 2011 - 6:57pm

Kiwanis Club sets ambitious goal of raising $150,000 to benefit Child Advocacy Center

There was a time when a child who was victimized would have to go through a gauntlet of police and medical exams while a case was built against the perpetrator.

And at the end of the process, the child and his or her family was left alone to figure out how to deal with trauma and its aftermath.

Then a group of leaders in the local criminal justice system got together and created Justice for Children and the Child Advocacy Center.

Today, when a child is sexually or physically abused, the child is no longer brought to an intimidating police station for an interview, then driven up to Strong Memorial Hospital for a physical and forensic exam, and then perhaps put through interviews with another investigator or two.

Rather, at the CAC on Bank Street, the child is welcomed into a kid-friendly environment where the investigators, medical examiners and other specialists are brought in to simplify the process for the child.

The CAC also provides ongoing counciling, support and even clothing and school supplies to families that need the assistance.

"I can't imagine going back to the way that it was before," District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said. "It's just a great place."

Friedman is also president this year of the Batavia Kiwanis Club. As a national organization, Kiwanis has a mission of engaging in charitable and civic work on behalf of children. The Batavia Kiwanis adopted the CAC as its long-term project.

The first order of business is to raise $150,000 to buy a new building to house the CAC. The club's goal is to raise $100,000 itself and is asking other Kiwanis clubs to contribute a combined $50,000.

"It's hard for me to imagine a more worthwhile long-term project for our club," Friedman said. 

Currently, the CAC pays $1,300 a month in rent -- down from $1,500 when the landlord provided lawn care that is now performed by volunteers -- mostly Kiwanis members. 

Friedman said that $1,300 a month that could be used to benefit children directly, and it's also a big expense in an age when state and federal grants are being reduced.

According to Genesee Justice Director Tiffany Szymanek, the CAC receives money from three primary grants -- National Children's Alliance, NYS Office of Child and Family Services and NYS Office of Victims' Services.

A new formula for state grants has more funds going to CACs in larger cities and cuts to smaller cities, Szymanek said.

Cuts have forced CAC to reduce staffing from two full-time employees to one and a half, with the hours of Grace Flannery, a child advocate (pictured) having her hours cut in half.

Flannery's job is to help guide a child and family through the process, from the day the child first walks into the toy filled waiting room through the criminal investigation, the court proceedings and any counseling.

The waiting room, Flannery said, "at least makes them feel a little more comfortable."

It's a symbol of what the CAC tries to accomplish -- avoid victimizing children again by putting through the trauma of reliving their experiences in sterile, adult environments.

"If they are escorted from service to service, they are just re-victimized and re-victimized," Szymanek said.

In a tour, Flannery showed off the CAC's child-friendly exam rooms, the clothes closet, the school supplies stacked in the employee break room and a boardroom filling up quickly with donations for an upcoming fundraiser. She said many times she thinks the community needs to know about the work the CAC does to help victimized children.

"The CAC is a marvelous resource that the community should know about," Flannery said. "Anything you can do to help get the word out, we really appreciate."

The Kiwanis Club is sponsoring a "Bidding on a Brighter Future" Gala and Auction at 6 p.m., Sept. 17 at Batavia Downs. Donations of items for the auction are still being accepted. Tickets for the gala are $40 per person or $75 per couple. Checks can be mailed to: Justice for Children GLOW Foundation, Inc., 108 Bank St., Batavia, NY 14020.

Disclosure: As of Thursday, Howard Owens is a member of the Batavia Kiwanis Club.

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