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One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.
- Forest E. Witcraft
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League of Women Voters learn about ‘Safe Harbor’

  • Original Publication Date: November 16, 2006
Founding leaders of Safe Harbor, the 4th Judicial District’s Child Advocacy Center, present an informative program at Tuesday’s meeting of Jefferson County’s League of Women Voters.  Executive Director Donna Koester of Sevierville and President Barry Fain of Dandridge sat down for an informal, enlightening chat with LOWV members and guests.

Fain began by acquainting everyone with Safe Harbor and its mission.  The nonprofit organization was chartered in September 2005, with a goal of establishing a protected haven for children who are victims of abuse.

When a youngster has been abused, whether sexually, physically or neglectfully, in order to report abuse, he or she must tell several people – teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, law enforcement officers, and finally a prosecutor.  Struggling through this seemingly endless chain of authority figures forces a child to re-tell – and relive – the traumatic event over and over.  This process can actually victimize and damage an injured child even further, Fain explained.

Safe Harbor hopes to create a pleasant and secure environment in which child victims just have to relate their horror stories once to a specially-trained forensic interviewer.  During this interview, a child protective investigative team (CPIT) can watch and listen, either by closed-circuit television or through a two-way mirror.  The CPIT would include representatives from law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office, Child Protective Services, Juvenile Court, and professional medical and mental health providers.

After the initial crisis intervention, Safe Harbor will continue to provide individual counseling and therapy for both children and non-offending adult family members.  This, too, would be done in a safe and comfortable setting.  Safe Harbor will also contract with a team of medical professionals to conduct child-sensitive forensic physical exams whenever necessary to gather the evidence for prosecution of child abuse cases.  They will assist victims through the court process, as well.  The support of Safe Harbor does not end there.  They will maintain a caring advocacy for kids throughout childhood and adolescence.

Fain, who was born and raised in Jefferson County, currently works within the juvenile court system.  He is a gentle, compassionate man who has devoted his life to the welfare of children.  He formerly volunteered with YOKE Youth Ministries, and established and led a Young Marines group (nonprofit youth education program) while living in Florida.  Fain’s sensitivity and giving spirit compelled him to get involved with Safe Harbor.

“This is where my heart’s at right now,” said Fain.  “Sometimes I project the faces of my own kids onto the faces of child abuse victims,” he said, explaining his need to work on behalf of abuse children.

Donna Koester is a natural mother, a long-time foster mother and a grandmother many times over.  An artist who once taught school and also served as a guidance counselor at Gatlinburg-Pittman, Donna has always loved children and been one of their staunchest champions.  She has never hesitated to call on Sevier County leaders and officials to back her children’s crusades.  That may be why the first Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center will probably be built in Sevierville.

Presently, Safe Harbor is renting and remodeling a 50-year old house on Chapman Highway for temporary use as a start-up children’s sanctuary until a permanent facility can be built.  The organization holds a 25-year lease on property near the Boys & Girls Club of Sevierville.  To demonstrate the type of support Safe Harbor gets in Sevierville, the town’s vice-mayor paid the first and last month’s fee on the property.  An architect has volunteered his services to produce plans for the new building, and local building suppliers have promised to provide materials.

Koester said heartwarming donations of furnishings, building supplies and kids stuff (toys and decorator items) arrive daily.  She and Fain are personally performing most of the renovation on the house – she paints, he puts in flooring, and together they install cabinets.

“This is not just a Sevier County project,” said Koester.  “We will serve all of the 4th district.  Ideally, we hope to eventually have satellite offices in every county.”  Sevier, Cocke, Jefferson and Grainger make up the 4th district.

Kingswood School in Grainger County has made space available to Safe Harbor, and both Sevier and Cocke County governments have pledged to allocate money to the organization once it is up and running.

Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center unites with a multi-disciplinary team to handle CPS referrals of only the highest priority cases.  They vow to show kindness and humanity and hopefully enough love toward these wounded children to help break the cycle for the next generation.  Safe Harbor’s motto is “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.”

Fain and Koester said they are forever ready and willing to present Safe Harbor’s program to any civic organization, like Rotary or Ruritans, to Sunday School classes, or even businesses.  The first contributor to a Child Advocacy Center was First Presbyterian Church of Jefferson City, who donated $500, when later shared proceeds from its giant yard sale in the amount of $5000.

To learn how you can help, log onto the Safe Harbor website – www.SafeHarborCAC.com, or call Donna Koester at 865-453-2638.

The Jefferson County League of Women Voters presents regular programs of interest to the community each second Tuesday of the month at the Jefferson CityMunicipal Building.  Notice of meetings is published in advance as will any upcoming fundraisers for Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center.

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