GLADWIN – During the Northern Michigan Alliance for Children Gala held Nov. 7 in Gladwin, multiple people spoke on the various types of impact which result from the NMAC’s multi-disciplinary approach. Intervention Impact was addressed by Katy Sherwood, forensic interventionist; Eriana DeKalita-Mull, crisis counselor, spoke on Therapeutic Impact; and Student Impact was described by Kristian Gilman, the organization’s first student intern.
The presentation of 2019 awards was done by Jasen Harris, NMAC program coordinator. Those awards and their recipients were: Mountain Mover Award/Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation; Helping Hands Award/Lissa Ames; Change Maker Award/State Senator James Stamas; Shining Star Award/1st Lt. Josh Lator, Post Commander of Michigan State Police Post 63 in Mount Pleasant; and Team Impact Award/Shelterhouse’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program.
Bethany Law, NMAC founder and executive director, spoke on Agency Impact, describing her team as phenomenal. She began that description with the words: “They make me feel ordinary.”
She said that a few months ago, she found herself overwhelmed with doubts about whether she was succeeding as a leader, as a boss, and said her patience was running thin. Law said her children were providing incessant, beautiful chaos and her inbox was overflowing with emails. That led to what she called a “mommy time-out” in order to de-compress. That time, and with a little help from her husband, brought Law to the realization that she would never be content with what she has accomplished – because there will always be more that needs to be done.
“I joke all the time that I still don’t know what I’ll be when I grow up – not because I don’t like my job – I’d rather do it than anything in the world,” Law said. “And, even more so the people that I work with, my family. But I do it because my brain tells me it needs to be done, and in my gut there’s an obsessive, obsessive need to do more, to be more, to fix more, to impact more.”
As much as Law would like to affect all things which she sees need attention, she said she has accepted that there are areas in which she excels and many more areas where she lacks the skills, knowledge or expertise to implement her ideas.
“I’ve learned two things,” Law said. “I will never be happy with just ordinary, and two: I cannot see extraordinary coming.”
She described the time in 2012 when she and co-founder Karen Adams first shared their dream with others (people with experience, connections, clout), believing those others shared the same vision. That vision included every child in Michigan should have access to the same compassionate, collaborative services Midland Child Advocacy Center had to offer. Law went on to describe the combined efforts and steps which led to the establishment of the Northern Michigan Child Advocacy Center which now serves children in Clare, Gladwin and Missaukee counties, and the expanded, shared expertise which led to the establishment of the Upper Peninsula’s only child advocacy center in Escanaba in mid-2018. The Escanaba team served 132 children the first year,
Law spoke of the near break-neck speed in which James Stamas had helped to establish the organization, and the unconditional generosity of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation which awarded $300,000 in the first year, and one year ago donated additional hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“In the first five years of service, our budget grew almost 10-fold,” she said. “We have seven unbelievable employees who run programs such as Prevention Education in our schools, forensic interviewing, victim advocacy, crisis counseling, multi-disciplinary team coordination, our trauma team, and more.”
Law said more than 880 children had been interviewed at the Harrison site, and that an estimated 1,500 family members had been served. She also said that 2,600 children had been served by the Prevention Education Program in just more than two years. Law also spoke of Trigger, the canine advocate, who had comforted 313 children and caregivers.
The mobile unit was stationed in the parking lot and available for tours after the event.
“In the first part of 2020, we will officially be opening our Comfort Center,” Law said. “A separate facility specifically for the provision of trauma-focused therapy for the children and families that were seen in our center.
“That, my friends, is definitely not ordinary – I would venture to say that what we accomplished as a team is extraordinary.”
Law then noted the many seemingly small things which had been done to facilitate the NMAC’s success, i.e., donation of a building space, unpaid volunteers, and a local man of modest means who pops in regularly to drop his handful of coins into a donation jar. She also thanked the NMAC Board of Directors, volunteers and interns.
Law thanked her colleagues who she said work selflessly beyond what is expected of them.
“Endless nights and weekends,” she said. “Who completed five interviews just yesterday, while still trying to put together the details for this event – just because children come first. They don’t do it because they’re rewarded, but because of their compassion and love for the kids.
Law concluded with recognition of all those in attendance who had been supportive from the beginning of the NMAC.
“Your faith and trust in our NMAC team is inspirational and humbling,” she said. “You are the foundation on which this organization was built, and together we will all continue to innovate, fix, build and preserve an agency that will never let kids [down] … as team members we are extraordinary and together we are stronger.”
NMAC Gala Shares Importance of ‘Just One’
GLADWIN – The Northern Michigan Alliance for Children has evolved since its inception, starting out as an idea in Midland that became a reality based in a privately-owned building on Oak Street in Harrison, then moving in December 2016 to its current building on Second Street. It still functions in its original conception as a mobile child advocacy center, but its name change reflects the broader idea of an alliance of many associates and service providers with a common goal of enabling support and safe, healthy futures for children: children who have been victims of sexual abuse or emotional/physical violence.
In August 2017 the center marked its progress at its second fundraising gala which was held in Clare and themed “Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust.” The NMAC celebrated its continued progress and accomplishments again at its third gala held Nov. 7 in Gladwin. This year’s theme was “An Evening of Impact,” and all the evening’s speakers tied into this theme of accumulated efforts, while not large individually, can and will result in significant impact on the lives of children.
The “impact” theme was symbolized through the use of a simple starfish, which was pulled into play throughout the evening.
Rosalind Kindell, Prevention Education Coordinator, opened the event by reciting “The Starfish Story” by Lauren Eisley.
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
The man laughed to himself and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
Kindell thanked attendees for their support and noted the celebration marked five years of service and growth.
“We are so grateful to have each of you beside us as we bring healing, hope and justice to abused children in rural Michigan,” she said. “We believe that no one person has all the knowledge, skills and experience to protect our children. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can protect all Michigan kids.”
Kindell also thanked the various sponsors who made the evening possible, including” Walmart, AT&T, Senator Jim Stamos, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Dr. G’s Dental Office, Gerstacker Foundation, ITC Holdings, Burkhart-Presidio Insurance, Chemical Bank, Members First Credit Union, MidMichigan Health and Modern Machinery of Beaverton.
After the dinner service, the program was opened with welcoming remarks by NMAC Chairperson Michelle Ambrozaitis welcomed attendees.
“Each and every one of you are important to our effort to protect children from abuse,” Ambrozaitis said. “This night is to celebrate you. To celebrate every action that you took that in turn made a big impact on our children and our organization.”
Kindell then spoke on the topic of Prevention Impact, opening with another quote, this one from Edward Everett Hale, which she said inspires her work every day:
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Her work in Clare and Gladwin counties’ five school districts includes teaching body safety and child sexual abuse prevention to first- and third-graders and their families, as well as the community at large.
Relating an incident involving one of those students, Kindell began what would be one of the most heart-rending offerings of the evening. She spoke of a child who wasn’t really participating in the class, a quiet, reserved boy who liked to read and mind his own business – and was always wearing his snow pants. Having picked up on his behaviors at the very first lesson, Kindell knew she had to establish a connection, and did so through direct eye contact and interactions that let him know she saw him and cared for him.
Kindell said that part of the lessons include a short, age-appropriate video. This pivotal day, the video was of a young girl named Zoey who disclosed her abuse to a trusted adult. When Kindell told the students that she felt sad for all that Zoey was going through and asked students how they were feeling, without hesitation the quiet boy in the snow pants who had never spoken, shot his hand in the air with a heretofore unseen confidence.
“Now I know I’m not the only one being hurt by somebody that should do better,” he said. “Now I know I’m not alone, that it happens to other people, too.”
“For the first time ever, I had no words,” Kindell said. “I was so proud of him for speaking up that I wanted to talk to him more in-depth about what had happened to him.”
She told him she was sorry he was experiencing that situation and reminded that she would always be there to support him and would be available to talk to him more about it after class. Kindell said she expected the talk would reveal the worst case scenario.
“He opened up about his world through his eyes, explaining what he liked to do, his interest in being a singer when he grew up,” she said. “He explained in detail multiple occasions of being mistreated, neglected and abused right in his own house – where he should feel safe and loved – at the hands of his father.”
Kindell said the child described his mother as always sleeping, not listening to him when he tried to reveal what was going on, even despite witnessing the abuse herself on one occasion. The mother said and did nothing to stand up for her son.
“He felt alone, hurt, worthless, and unable to achieve good things in his life,” Kindell said. “After encouraging him that he could be anything he wanted in life, if he sets his mind to it, he started singing the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Every word was heartfelt and every tone was sung perfectly. I could see the joy and peace on his face, as he gazed straight into my eyes throughout the entire song.”
Kindell said that her eyes filled with tears, as they connected once again.
“And as The Starfish Story states: We made a difference for that one,” she said.
She then challenged attendees to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, because they too could help save a child, and help her in her goal of ending child sexual abuse in the next four years.
Kindell then introduced Amelia Sutherland who sang “A Million Dreams,” the song sung by the little boy that impactful, life-changing day.
This song’s lyrics begin: “I close my eyes and I can see, A world that’s waiting up for me that I call my own.”
“It was a moment that I will never forget,” Kindell said.
Working In Trenches That Sometimes Fill With Tears
MSP Commander Speaks of Child Abuse, Importance of Team Support
GLADWIN – Josh Lator, who has been part of the Northern Michigan Alliance for Children since its inception, has been involved in the expansion of the mobile unit and outreach communities, and was described by a fellow board member as genuine, compassionate and devoted. Lator also traveled extensively to help establish the Delta County regional child advocacy site and does not hesitate to help any community in its effort to start a child advocacy center.
Lator has a gift for conveying his passion for the program along with child, family and community safety He also is an officer with an all-too-full cupboard of past child abuse case files. His ability to articulate and make-real those cases at the 2017 gala earned him a second shot at the job of “financial asker” during the Nov. 7 NMAC gala. Lator began his remarks by describing an incident of a few years ago which brought him to tears at a restaurant in the City of Clare.
“I was sitting there with my midnight partner from the state police post and his wife, and my wife, Liz, and our kids,” he said. “And our waitress was helping us, and she was doing a great job. She was taking care of us, and the next thing I know we have a new waitress.”
Lator thought it was odd. Then the new waitress came over and asked his wife if it was OK to give her husband a hug. The hug was delivered, and the waitress suggested that Lator did not remember her. He affirmed that he did not.
“Then she told me her name,” he said. “The reason I didn’t recognize her is because she was a college-age young lady who had grown up, and when I knew her she was just coming out of middle school.”
Lator said that after talking to a group of kids at a school, she had disclosed she had been the victim of sexual assault by a neighbor for more than five years, and her parents had no way of knowing about it.
“She said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’m a mom. I have a little boy and he’s awesome and he’s perfect, and I found a place that’s actually buying my art. I’m in art school and that’s why I’m working here, to pay for my art.’
“And I teared up,” Lator said. “Then she looked at my little girls and she said, ‘You don’t know me, but your dad is my hero because he saved me from something I didn’t think would ever stop.’”
Lator said that was when he “lost it.” Tying his comments back to the evening’s theme of Impact and “The Starfish Story” read earlier, he went on to say the reason he teared up was he had the realization that one of those starfish had made it.
“We don’t always get to find out five, 10, 20 years down the road what happened,” Lator said. “And we never say we give somebody closure and we never say it’s over now. We say we’ve given this person a chance to know they’re loved and someone cares about them – and we got them a chance to get back on their feet.”
He said another reason he teared up was that he has had 21 years serving in the Central Michigan community.
“I remember feeling very lonely on that beach when that little girl washed ashore,” Lator said. “Because her parents would call me after the forensic interview and say they were trying to find a counseling service that has dealt with young ladies that have gone through this. Nobody can help us, is it OK if you talk to her on the phone? I said I’m not a counselor, but I’ll talk to her.”
He told her in late night phone conversations that although he was not a counselor, he had talked to 50 other girls like her who had gone through that feeling, and it’s OK to work through it.
“I remember thinking somebody is better than me at this; they’ve got to be out there,” he said. “I remember wishing I had a team of S.A.N.E. [sexual assault nurse examiner] nurses that are professional, compassionate, experts. I wish I had a team that was doing prevention, because maybe during that five years someone would have said ‘That’s your personal space, that’s your body and you’re the boss of it, and it’s OK to tell a trusted adult.’
“I remember thinking, in the context of tonight, that beach is really lonely. And I remember every child sexual assault that came in, in Isabella and Clare County to my office at the state police post in Mount Pleasant – and coming back from vacation and seeing nine, 10 or 11 of them sitting there – and doing forensic interviews over and over again.”
Lator said he loved the kids and it was worth it, but the contrast was staggering.
“One night I’m kicking the door on a drug house, and the next night I’m in plain clothes in a police department sitting cross-legged on the floor pinky-promising with a 4-year-old little girl that I will tell her the truth,” he said. “And thinking there’s got to be a better way.”
Lator said the reason he is passionate about the NMAC team and loves the men and women in attendance that evening was because in 2013 there “weren’t individual police officers and prosecutors lined up at different places on the beach.”
“There was a team actually standing on shore saying, ‘Hey, as soon as one washes up onshore, we’re not going to chuck it back – we’re going to pick it up and we’re going to brush it off an we’re going to I say we know you feel broken, we know you hurt, but you’re still important, you’re still loved. You’re still whole, and we’ll help you remember and understand that. And we’ll get you back in the water. And when the next one comes up, we’ll do the same thing again. And when we get tired, we’ll lean on each other because we’re not by ourself.”
Lator said that is precisely what the NMAC team does, and recalled his excitement when prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis described the plan for a multi-disciplinary team. He also spoke of meeting the other team members: Bethany Law, Karen Adams and Katy Sherwood.
“Forensic interviewers like Katy, who time and time again… every time you hear a story it’s a celebration because you were able to build a rapport with that little man or little woman who was able to open up that box and tell the truth so we can help them heal emotionally, mentally and physically. We can also try to bring justice but every time, like [Katy] said, you take a little piece of that person and you put it in your pack and you carry it around with you for the rest of your life.”
Lator left attendees with one request: that they be able to say they’re not OK with what’s not OK.
“That’s the best way I can sum this up,” he said. “When you look at what happens to these little guys and little gals – I’m not OK with what’s not OK. I may not be the forensic interviewer in that room, but I trust the woman that is and I want to back her up. I may not be that S.A.N.E. nurse that’s talking to that little person and helping them understand and vocalize what they don’t even understand, but I thank God they’re there.”
Lator said that gratitude extends to prosecutors and everyone on down the line, including the prevention work.
“Because I’m not OK with what’s not OK,” he repeated.
He then urged those who are able to contribute financially toward “keeping the team on the field.”
“If you can’t support us financially, encourage the people out there,” he said. “Love on your little ones and support the program with positive words. Pray for the people who are out there dealing with these kids every day, because it’s not easy. But they’re doing it because they’re loving them for the right reasons.”