Child Advocacy Center Gets New Headquarters

Nonprofit that helps abused kids invites visitors to open house

By Marti Davis

This new Lenoir City "farmhouse" is actually headquarters for the Kids First Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District, advocates for severely abused children in Meigs, Loudon, Roane and Morgan counties. Built on land donated by sausage maker Ted Wampler and his family, it was made possible by $440,000 raised by the community volunteers.

Jack and John Doe (not their real names) were 13 and 14 when one of them finally revealed their horrific secret.

Their mom and dad had been raping them and forcing them to have sexual relations with each other since they were 5 and 6 years old.

The boys first told someone at school, then a therapist at the Kids First Child Advocacy Center for the Ninth Judicial District, a nonprofit agency that advocates for severely physically and sexually abused children in Meigs, Loudon, Roane and Morgan counties. The center works closely with the state Department of Children's Services and law enforcement authorities to protect the children, provide therapy and treatment, and coordinate the efforts of a "protective team" assigned to each abused child.

"We saw two little boys come in here very confused, very hurt and very angry," said Chris Evans-Longmire, director of the child advocacy center. "They were removed from the home immediately because both parents were perpetrators.They were taken in by a cousin and his wife who are poor, to say the least, but they loved these boys and took them in and protected them and made sure they came here to get help."

After extensive therapy to help the boys shed their shame, they were adopted by their cousin, changed their names and moved from the area. Their biological parents remain in prison.

The Kids First Child Advocacy Center will welcome visitors to an open house and ribbon cutting at its new "farmhouse" headquarters in Lenoir City at 10 a.m. Wednesday, said Evans-Longmire.

Sausage maker Ted Wampler and his wife gave two acres of their family farm for the center. Then a volunteer introduced Evans-Longmire to a donor who offered $100,000, but only if the center could match it in six months. They had to raise the matching funds in $10,000 increments, the director said.

Tennessee first lady Andrea Conte sponsored events to help raise funds, and University of Tennessee coaches Pat Summitt, Bruce Pearl, Phil Fulmer and David Cutcliffe each got behind the effort, as did hundreds of citizens throughout the area served by the center. The center matched its $100,000 donor's gift with $110,000, then kept going to raise a total of $440,000 for the center, Evans-Longmire said.

The 8,000-square-foot building was designed to be "warm and comfortable," she added. "It's not cold or sterile and generic. We want children to come here and feel good about being here, even though they're here for a bad reason."

Interview rooms are fitted with closed-circuit cameras so the child's revelations can be taped and witnessed by law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and others, Evans-Longmire said.

"We take pride in making sure the child doesn't have to relive that story multiple times," she explained.

Of the hundreds of children served by the center in 2007, nine in 10 were abused by a parent, family friend or caregiver. About eight in 10 had been sexually abused, Evans-Longmire said. The center has a full-time staff of seven, a pediatrician and nurse who volunteer their time, and many other community volunteers.

In addition to working with abused children, the center, which opened in April 2002, provides resource materials to schools and educates students in kindergarten through seventh grade about child abuse. It raises part of its operating expenses through private donations and also receives state and federal grants.

Today, all but two Tennessee counties are served by child advocacy centers, Evans-Longmire said.

The Kids First Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District is located at 887 Highway 70 West in Lenoir City. It can be reached by calling 865-986-1505.