By ALICIA LEONARD
Friday, March 30, marked a three-year long journey to bring the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center(ECCAC) to a new branch home in DeFuniak Springs. Local officials, child advocates and concerned community members celebrated the opening of the child and family-friendly office located on U.S. 90 next to the FNBT office near the intersection of SR-83 and U.S. 90.
Julie Hurst, CEO of ECCAC, has been in the business of offering help, shelter and support to abused children and their families for over a decade. Hurst thanked Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson and many other community leaders and business with helping get the second center open to serve children and families in Walton County. Previously, families and service providers had to meet at the ECCAC office in Niceville, Fla., which often caused hardships for some families relating to time and expenses in traveling for help.
Adkinson remarked that it takes an incredible amount of courage for abused children to come forward and for the professionals that help these children and families day in and day out to do such an amazing job. Adkinson pledged support for the center through a donated portion of seized funds from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office budget.
Attendees painted tiles to be included in a proposed permanent office locale in the future, and enjoyed refreshments donated by local business, such as a specially decorated cake by Winn-Dixie, to celebrate the opening. An open house celebration was held after the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Services are offered to children and their families at no cost and many different agencies will be able to serve the needs of families from this secondary location. Hurst identified that it was through community support and volunteers that the dream of a secondary center in Walton County came to be realized. With April being recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the timing of the opening for the center was perfect. Hurst remarked earlier that with the opening of a center in Walton the ECCAC had already seen an increase in the number of victims reported as well as services provided for local families. The ECCAC hopes to increase community awareness and educational offerings in the local community.
Partner agencies include: the Department of Children and Families, Child Protection Team, State Attorney’s Office, Licensed Mental Health Counselors and local law enforcement agencies
The center is still in need of community support and they are looking to hire a full-time licensed mental health therapist for the center. Items can also be donated to the center to help make the children’s’ experiences with the center better. Some of those items include: journals, washable paint for therapy, juice boxes, lamps for playrooms and desks, a laptop computer, a sound machine, a flat screen TV for the conference room, two DVD players, children’s table and chairs, a shredder, sponsors for each bathroom to update the tile and floors, two small shelving units, a volunteers to pressure wash the outside of the building and parking area and a wall-mounted infant changing table.
To find out how residents can help to give a voice to the children who have suffered abuse and need help, go to eccac.org or facebook.com/eccac or call (850) 892-0280 or drop by and visit the center at 256 Hwy 90 East, DeFuniak Springs, FL 32433.