IM SAFE CAC raises almost $5K at virtual luncheon, awards event
By Karen Bota | on June 24, 2020
FENWICK — The Ionia Montcalm Secure and Friendly Environment Child Advocacy Center (IM SAFE CAC) went digital June 10 with its first online fundraiser and digital awards ceremony.
The Champions for Children Virtual Luncheon had raised $4,500 as of Monday, not quite 50% of the event goal of $10,000. Seventy-two people attended the virtual event.
Like other nonprofits and businesses, the IM SAFE CAC has struggled financially during the coronavirus pandemic. Executive Director Kirkhoff was furloughed in April to cut expenses, but she was back to emcee the virtual luncheon.
The CAC, which is headquartered at 10260 S. Sheridan Road (M-66) in Fenwick, provides multi-disciplinary investigations, assessment, and treatment of child sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, human trafficking, and child exploitation over the internet, all free of charge. The agency serves children ages 2 to 17 who live in Ionia and Montcalm counties, and their families.
One in 10 children under the age of 18 will become a victim of sexual abuse, according to CAC Board President and Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause. In the two counties served, that means 2,850 children could be victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18. Since the CAC opened its doors five years ago, 1,374 children have received services there, as well as their families.
Krause presented the first award to the Community Member of the Year to Terri Legg, executive director of United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties.
“Terri has demonstrated time and again that she is committed to the well-being of children and families in Ionia and Montcalm counties. She tirelessly advocates and makes sure each child and family have the basic necessities they need,” Krause said. “She goes above and beyond to support the other nonprofit organizations in our area so they too can continue to provide services to our family and children.”
At the start of her online acceptance speech, Legg told the other nominees, “You are the heroes, because you’re on the frontline every day making a better difference in our community.
“Like you, I’ve seen a lot of things that cannot be unseen,” she said. “In everything I have done, am doing and will continue do, I will use my voice to advocate for the children and our families in our community. I figure if I don’t lend a hand, who will?”
IMSAFE CAC Board Vice President and Ionia County Prosecutor Kyle Butler presented the award for Multidisciplinary Team Member of the Year (MDT).
Members come from law enforcement, MDHHS, prosecutors’ offices, community mental health agencies, Relief After Violent Encounter-Ionia/Montcalm, health care providers and others. The decision was “particularly difficult” this year, said Butler, resulting in the first-ever tie. Michigan State Police Trooper Colin Gensterblum and MDHHS case worker Lori Walsh both received the award.
“Every time (Gensterblum) has a case, he puts his all into the case and makes sure families get the help they need,” Butler said. “Despite being relatively new to the field, he has shown what it takes to be a true leader. He is compassionate, hardworking and dedicated to serving the public. We are very grateful that he is part of our MBT.”
With more than 12 years of experience investigating complaints of child physical and sexual abuse and other crimes against children, Walsh has been an instrumental part of the CAC as a MDT member, said Butler.
Walsh said she appreciates the support the MDT provides for the community.
“I’m really, really thankful to be part of that community and that family,” she said. “I still really have a passion for what I do. I love working with the families, and I love collaborating in the community, making sure that we can do everything we can do to keep kids safe.”
Kirkhoff noted that, in the early days of the CAC before there was funding, Walsh was one of 18 volunteers who stepped up to attend special training to become forensic interviewers.
The third award was a new one, presented to an Outstanding Board Member of the Year to recognize those individuals working behind the scenes to support the CAC. The award went to Shannon Lake, business manager at Lake Funeral Home.
Lake approached Kirkhoff a few years ago and was passionate about helping children who had been victims of sexual abuse, Kirkhoff recalled. At the time, the CAC needed people to raise money to start the center. Lake headed up the Start by Believing Dinner and Reverse Raffle in February, which has become the CAC’s largest fundraiser, and soon joined the board.
The keynote speaker of the virtual event was Steve Shannon, a children’s advocate who shares his family’s experience to raise awareness and support for children’s advocacy centers, mentors and facilitates prevention programs.
His son, Mike, is an abuse survivor. Mike was 10 when he disclosed in 2006 that he had been abused by the teenage son of close family friends.
The Ed and Nancy Hanenburg Children’s Advocacy Center in Ottawa County provided services to the Shannon family, and today Mike is a 24-year-old sergeant in the U.S. Army, and a combat medic.
“Because of all the help provided by the CAC, and at no cost to him or his family, mind you, Mike was not defined by his ordeal,” said Steve.
Steve urged everyone to support the work of CACs, adding that he hopes that one day the “epidemic” of child abuse will be overcome, putting all CACs “out of business.”
Visit www.imsafecac.org/ for more information about IM SAFE CAC.