Carl Perkins

Callie Allison, director of the Carl Perkins Center, discussed issues such as childhood trauma, support networks and family resources at Thursday's coffee event.

As part of their ongoing series of coffee meet-and-greets, the McNairy County Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce hosted a chat with the staff of the Exchange Club Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse on Thursday, November 19.

Callie Allison, director of the child advocacy center, and a number of her colleagues sat down with county residents to explain the importance of the organization. Surrounded by draping string-lights and softly lit candles, the event space lent a soft atmosphere to the unimaginably vital topic.

“We are a nonprofit in McNairy County,” Allison said. “We are the only child advocacy center in the county, and we cover all of west Tennessee.”

Allison, who has been with the center since 2012, helps serve 20 counties in the area.

“Our main focus is that we take care of children who have been sexually and physically abused. So all of our services pretty much surround children who have experienced some type of abuse,” she said.

Most of the center’s cases are referred to them through the Department of Children’s Services.

“We work very closely with them,” Allison said. “Anything to do with sex abuse, drug exposure—we have the ability to follow those cases.”

Allison described their jobs as being the main contact for the family to assist in coordination and support.

“After that child goes through the (investigation process), we’re with that child the entire time,” she said. “We’re here to make them feel comfortable, and we’re here to make sure that all of their needs are met.”

With Allison were several of her colleagues, who discussed their roles in the organization. From therapy to cyber monitoring to caregiver support, these women described a full spectrum of responsibilities that are often overlooked in the justice process.

“When we receive these cases at the very beginning, our job starts,” Allison said. “The wheels start turning, and we follow these cases all the way through until the prosecution or whatever that may be.”

“That’s how everyone comes into play,” she added. “We make decisions from here, and then we start taking care of these children and their families.”

The staff also praised their relationship with District Attorney Lisa Miller, who has been “a tremendous advocate” for the center.

“Lisa Miller is hands down one of the best district attorney’s that I think we have in this area,” Allison said. “And I think a lot of that comes from her heart—it’s invested.”

“These cases mean something to her,” she added. “If there is any opportunity to get that kid the justice that they need, Lisa is going to do it.”

Among other topics discussed were the rise in cyber tips being sent to the center—since many school-aged children are sequestered at home, in-person reporting via trusted adults, teachers or guardians has sharply decreased, while online tips have sky-rocketed.

Additionally, resources for caregiver families have become far harder to find due to the pandemic—an issue that is causing major strain on the center. And while some state and grant funding is provided to the organization, such help only covers about half of the costs.

“So a lot of times, my job is to make sure the doors stay open,” Allison said. “So I try to speak, and I try to make connections with community partners so we can provide services to these kids. Everything from the time you walk in, until it might be ten years later at prosecution—everything is free. They never have to pay for a dollar. And that is such a blessing to them, and for us to provide, so that they don’t have to worry about that stress.”

“We make sure we bend over backwards…to make sure these kids get what they need to help them get through the abuse they have endured,” she continued.

To be able to offer these services, the center requires massive fundraising. This has seen difficulty this year, however, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

A popular local event that the center puts on each year—Dancing With the Stars—usually brings in $85,000 to the center, but was cancelled due to the climbing infection rate.

“We’ve struggled financially for a lot of things this past year,” Allison said. “But God continues to bless us and he’ll continue to bless us. I have faith that we’re doing God’s work and he’ll keep our door open.”

To combat this loss, the center has been working even harder on their other yearly ventures—namely, Christmas tree sales and Christmas parade activities. Sales on trees ended Friday, with Allison predicting the center drew in around $6000.

Allison thanks every business and individual who participated in this drive, because it “will allow (the center) to provide quality services to many victims of child abuse.”

The center is also selling $10 arm bands to the downtown Selmer Christmas parade, which will cover activities such as pictures with Santa, arts and crafts, train rides and access to a Christmas movie and popcorn in the Latta building.

If readers wish to contribute in more direct ways, the center is also hosting its annual Christmas List drive, where businesses, families and individuals can “adopt” a child’s wish-list for Christmas.

Any child that has been served by the center is given the option to be “adopted”—so far, there are a little over 100 kids in this year’s program. Around half of them have been adopted.

“Some of them (ask for) the most heartbreaking things, like toiletries and hygiene supplies,” Allison said, looking heartbroken. “And some of them are things that my kids would ask for.”

If readers would like to sponsor a kid, contact the center at 731-646-3627, and they will send you a list of requested items. Additionally, the center can shop for readers if a monetary donation is preferred.

However readers wish to help, Allison is grateful.

“Where would these kids turn to without the center?” she said. “Without the community, there is no Carl Perkins Center.”

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