By DAVE EMKE
Special to the OBSERVER
Since 2009, the Child Advocacy Program of Chautauqua County has provided "a process and a place" for victims of abuse at its Jamestown offices.
The Red House for Youth in Cassadaga will be the host of the Child Advocacy Program’s Chili Feast and Barn Dance on Sunday, Oct. 9. The event is a fundraiser to help the organization raise money to open a new North County location in Dunkirk.
CAP's nationally accredited home at 405 W. Third St. brings multiple child advocates and law enforcement agents together in one physically and psychologically safe setting. The state-of-the-art facility features an interview room where children can speak with an advocate while being monitored in another room by detectives, CPS workers and attorneys; rooms for counselors to speak with non-offending family members; and an atmosphere that is conducive to making a child in need feel comfortable. The entire building is designed to lessen the trauma for the children by forcing them to tell their difficult story once and only once.
For child abuse victims in the North County, however, coming to Jamestown to go through the process may not be an option. And no child should be denied the opportunity to be as comfortable as possible during such a painful process just because of geography and socioeconomic status, said Jana McDermott, CAP's executive director.
"One of the horror stories is our child victims - 5, 6 years old - being interviewed in the basement of the police department," she said. "That should not happen. We're revictimizing those kids."
Though the Child Advocacy Program has been partnering with Catholic Charities to share office space in Dunkirk, giving a private room to interview children and keep them out of the police department basement, the current facility still pales in comparison to the Jamestown office. Sunday, Oct. 9, the program will hold its first event to both raise money to upgrade the Dunkirk facility to national standards as well as to spread awareness of its importance throughout the county.
CAP's Chili Feast and Barn Dance will be held Oct. 9 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Red House for Youth in Cassadaga, and McDermott says that the event is designed to be both a fundraiser and a "friend-raiser."
"This is not just about fundraising: we want partners in prevention," she said. "We want to educate the community about the problem of child abuse, and that there are things we can do."
The funds that will be raised during the event, however, will be used to help establish and improve the program's presence in the northern part of Chautauqua County. The end goal rests within a new office space for both the Child Advocacy Program and Catholic Charities, which will be located at 421 Main St. in Dunkirk, with a designated forensic interview room for CAP inside.
The aim is to officially open the facility by year's end.
"The Child Advocacy Program will now have a permanent presence in the North County," McDermott said. "We want the North County to have the same services that we have in the South County, which is a child-friendly location."
HELPING PROGRAMS THAT HELP KIDS
Steve Wickmark, who owns the Red House for Youth along with his wife, Nancy, is no stranger to the Child Advocacy Program and its value to local youth.
"I was a prosecutor for a number of years, and worked specifically in child sexual abuse cases for seven or eight years," he said. "So I know firsthand why the Child Advocacy Program is so important to the community and to the kids."
Wickmark, who later served as the county commissioner for social services, purchased the Denny Mansion on the backroads of Cassadaga in 2008 and reinvented it as the Red House for Youth - an events center for the purpose of generating resources for youth development throughout the area.
"It began as a half-baked idea: a philanthropic activity where we had in mind that the community would buy into the concept of a self-sustaining revenue engine for youth programs," he said. "It was done in light of huge needs across the county, and particularly in our county, for more programming and services for kids."
The mid-19th century mansion has a rich history. Some believe it to have been a part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. While Wickmark said those claims are unproven, he cannot dismiss them.
"I'm not an expert in history, so I'm not going to debate it one way or the other," he said. "But I don't mind the fact that people think that it was."
Whatever its past, the large, beautiful house has played host to weddings, reunions, business retreats, proms and numerous other events during the three years it has been in operation. All proceeds raised from events held there, Wickmark said, go in to a fund awaiting requests from local organizations.
It has been a "no-brainer" to make the Child Advocacy Program a principal recipient of funding for the Red House's proceeds, Wickmark said. Now, he said, he is looking forward to being able to give back to the program in another way.
"We've made a couple of donations this past year, including donating the property for them to do their own fundraiser," he said. "We're really looking forward to a big turnout, because they're certainly deserving of it. ... This fits right into our model of trying to help programs that are helping kids."
Through his experience in the field, Wickmark said he is painfully aware that the logistics of getting victims and professionals back and forth from Dunkirk to Jamestown to utilize CAP's valuable services are quite difficult. Therefore, he said he is hopeful that the program's growth to the North County is successful.
"The program has value far beyond the city of Jamestown, and people already recognize that," he said. "I understand why they want to identify and support a North County facility, and there has been a pretty good buy-in already."
SOWING THE SEEDS OF PREVENTION
At the Chili Feast and Barn Dance on Oct. 9, those who make the trek to Cassadaga to support the Child Advocacy Program will have a lot of fun as they do so.
In addition to spreading awareness about child abuse education and about the organization's services, CAP will be hosting live music, dancing and more during the festivities. Among the fun will be contra dancing, an activity board member Cindy DiNapoli describes as "square dancing maxed-out."
"You go this way, you go that way, and you go back," she said, adding the only way to truly appreciate the dance is to find videos on YouTube. "Somehow you keep switching."
Local caller Kathy Fox will lead the dance and attendees will be invited to learn the moves for themselves, DiNapoli said.
A chili and bread bar will be offered for those in attendance courtesy of the Mustard Seed restaurant, and fresh apple cider and desserts will also be available. Throughout the evening, the Child Advocacy Program will continue to raise money for its cause through the sale of mums and pumpkins, as well as candles donated by the Grape County Candle Company. A basket drawing will also be held.
Also adding to the enjoyment of the evening will be tours of the historic mansion provided by the Wickmarks.
"We have events here almost every weekend, and there's never been an event where people haven't wanted to have walkthrough tours. That's certainly part of the package we're offering to CAP," Wickmark said. "We just want to make them have as successful a time as possible, and if that helps, we'll do that or anything else they ask us to do. I'm just there opening up the doors."
Tickets to the event can be purchased from any member of CAP's North County committee, which includes Paula Pichon, Edwin Rodriguez, Brian Masciadrelli, Dr. Leanna While, Sylvia Swan and Carol Bleck. They also can be found at the program's Jamestown offices or at the door of the Red House for Youth, 91 Frisbee Road in Cassadaga, on the evening of the event.
Admission to the event will be $10, and children under 18 will be admitted free with a paying adult. For more information about the event or about the mission of the Child Advocacy Program of Chautauqua County, call 338-9844 or visit www.capjustice.org.
McDermott said that beyond the establishment of a new North County facility for CAP, the organization hopes the proceeds raised from the Oct. 9 event help begin to sow the seeds for a media campaign that will build awareness toward stamping out child abuse once and for all.
"Every adult needs to know the dynamics and the prevalence of child abuse and how to keep children safe, because we're not doing it," she said, adding the organization plans to begin to gather and distribute materials, information and training for churches, schools and other venues. "There are too many children being abused, and I really think it's just that people don't know how to keep their kids safe."
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