‘Thank you, Cullman County, for loving children in our community as much as we do!’

Brooks’ Place director talks grant, upcoming fundraisers

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Brooks’ Place, the Child Advocacy Center is seen Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019 in Cullman. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala.Gov. Kay Ivey last week awarded $419,214.21 in federal funds allotted to the state for crime victims’ services to Brooks’ Place, the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Cullman. The money will cover a large percentage of six full-time employee salaries, utility bills and facility upkeep, client assessment and therapy materials and other expenses. 

“Children are the future, and we must always protect them,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for programs like the Cullman County Child Advocacy Center that restore lives and families and help to put the offenders behind bars.”

CAC is a place where children who are victims of physical or sexual abuse can go for help.  Once through the door, kids receive a forensic interview in a comfortable setting (no white walls and big tables; it’s kid-friendly, with furniture and accessories to accommodate young children to teens), observed via video cameras by law enforcement and Cullman County Department of Human Resources representatives who form part of the center’s Multi-Disciplinary Team. Children can also receive non-invasive medical examinations including testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and counseling from certified center staff. Brooks’ Place has assisted victims and non-offending caregivers in getting protective orders against offenders and has provided other services for victims and families headed to court.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is administering the grant from funds made available to the state by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Gov. Ivey and ADECA are committed to helping young victims receive the services and guidance they need to recover from abuse,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said.

On Monday, CAC Director Gail Swafford talked to The Tribune about what the state grant renewal means for the organization, as well as what the group still needs. The grant is intended to cover up to 80% of CAC’s operating expenses for 18 months, with the organization providing 20% in matching funds; in this case, more than $100,000. This means that, even with the grant, CAC still needs help from the Cullman community.

Swafford said, “I can give you statistics of the thousands of dollars it takes in a year to provide even counseling- and people don’t pay for that (at CAC). They don’t pay for their medicals, they don’t pay for the advocacy side of it.”

In fact, CAC provides all its services to its young clients and their families completely free of charge, including medical exams that families once had to travel to Birmingham or Huntsville to access.  Concerned that children would not get exams if their parents could not afford the travel expenses, Swafford brought forensic nurses to CAC in the last two years.

Additionally, according to Swafford, CAC’s counseling services would cost more than $80 per hour in the private sector, and the type of mental and emotional trauma CAC’s clients face requires long-term care. Those clients are served at no cost, from start to finish.

Said Swafford, “We’re very small, when it comes to staff, but we provide a lot of services.”

CAC has been guaranteed grant money, but it has not received money from the state since spring of this year. The money will come, but Swafford and her staff still have to serve their clients in the meantime.

Said Swafford, “Brooks’ Place has experienced funding cuts like many other nonprofit agencies. I am so thankful that our ADECA grant was recently renewed for 18 months. Most people don’t realize that the grant award doesn’t cover some of the services we provide, nor that we must meet the 20% match requirement. Without the match, there is no grant. Without the grant there are no services for child victims and their families like we provide at Brooks’ Place. We strive to assist the family with their basic needs, medical needs, counseling, advocacy and other ways so they can begin their journey of healing from the abuse they’ve experienced. We are always grateful for those who make donations and contributions. Without financial support from the community we could not help families at perhaps the worst time of their lives. Thank you, Cullman County, for loving children in our community as much as we do!”

Fundraising events coming up soon

The Cullman Association of Realtors will host its second charity auction to benefit Brooks’ Place and Secret Meals for Hungry Children at Stone Bridge Farms Friday, Aug. 16, starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, and the event will include dinner. Event sponsors include EvaBank, Alabama Credit Union, Peoples Bank, Traditions Bank, Willow Bend Mortgage, The Mortgage Center and Stone Bridge Farms.

Brooks’ Place will host its annual golf tournament at Terri Pines Country Club Friday, Aug. 23, with lunch at 11 a.m. and tournament start at noon. Golfers can enter the four-player scramble for $80 per person or $320 per team. Hole sponsorships are available for $100, or a hole sponsorship plus a four-player team is available for $350. Prizes include Yeti coolers, a gas grill, flat screen TV and more. A hole in one will win a 30×30 fully enclosed metal building with one 10×10 roll-up door and one standard door, provided by AGCOR Steel. Title sponsors include AGCOR, Cullman Savings Bank, Tri-County Mobile X-Ray and Wal-Mart Distribution Center. Event sponsors include Frogg Toggs, Pepsi and Johnny’s Bar-B-Q.

CAC’s Blakely Hopper told The Tribune, “Our golf tournament continues to grow every year with more and more great prizes. This fundraiser is such an important event for Brooks’ Place.  The money raised allows us to continue providing services to child victims and families at NO COST to the family.  Like most nonprofit agencies, funding cuts means that we must rely on fundraising and other corporate/individual donations to keep our doors open and provide services needed for the child and family to heal from the atrocity of abuse.”

The need for Brooks’ Place

Swafford would love to work herself out of a job, but advocacy for child victims of crime is, unfortunately, a field with job security.

Swafford told The Tribune, “It’s so sad that we even have to exist, but I don’t see it ever going away, not with the way our world is today. I sure wish it would; I’d be glad to find another job!”

CAC staff have recently undergone specifically training on how to conduct forensic interviews of child victims of human trafficking, a growing issue across the country and in the Cullman community.  Three trafficking cases are currently pending in Cullman courts, and the recent arrest of a trafficker in California turned up evidence that he was using online resources to recruit a minor in the Cullman area.

For more information on Brooks’ Place Child Advocacy Center or its upcoming fundraisers, visit www.caccullman.org or www.facebook.com/brooksplacecac/ or call 256-739-2243.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com