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Coalition Against Child Abuse honors local supporters

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

The Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse recognized a number of city and county workers, government entities and one church for working alongside the nonprofit last year.

Joyce Dorsey, an employee with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Lincoln County office, and recipient of the Coalition’s “Ola Mae Foster Award” — given for “providing prevention and intervention as it pertains to child abuse,” the award said — opened up about her personal past with sexual abuse and why it’s vital that she volunteer her time with the nonprofit as much as possible.

From age 3 to 12, Dorsey experienced abuse by a family friend, she said, keeping the traumatic incidents a secret until her adulthood.

She noted how it’s not uncommon for victims to be familiar with their abusers.

“It’s your neighbor, boyfriend, uncle, grandfather and daddy,” she said. “It’s people you trust with all your heart. That’s what makes the abuse so traumatic.”

Growing up in a home Dorsey described as “dysfunctional,” her abuser portrayed himself as someone she could trust.

“He presented himself as a protector and father figure,” she said.

Dorsey finally revealed her painful past to her mother one day after both visited her abuser in a nursing home.

With a young daughter, Dorsey said she couldn’t help but cringe the moment the man reached out to touch her child, also visiting with them.

She credited her Christian salvation and God’s power with healing her, years later.

While the abuse no longer haunts her, she understands that a number of other victims may still be suffering, fearful of sharing about their hurt or believing themselves to be the only ones who have experienced it.

Dorsey later learned her abuser had multiple victims, she said.

For the last six years, she’s used her passion for abused children to assist Coalition and serve on its Board.

Sherry Reinhardt, executive director of the nonprofit and its Child Advocacy Center (CAC), said Dorsey has worked just about every event and fundraiser the organization has sponsored over the last several years.

Dorsey was shocked to receive such a heartfelt award at a luncheon on April 17.

With family present, she accepted the honor and thought about the legacy she would leave.

“It was something I will never forget,” she said.

While she initially failed to think of any societal differences she had made throughout her life, Dorsey eventually realized it was through her volunteer work and own children that she had impacted the world.

In addition to aiding Coalition, she helped found the Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) in Cleveland County.

“So that (founding the CPC), Coalition and my two daughters — those are the differences I’ve made in my life,” she said.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Detective Dan Renn, received the nonprofit’s “Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) Member of the Year Award.”

“The two words that come to mind when I think of Dan are ‘dedicated’ and ‘Diligent,’” Reinhardt said. “Dan goes above and beyond in his duty to protect the children in Lincoln County and to hold those who harm our children accountable.”

Renn joined MDT in 2012, when he was promoted to detective.

The team, which meets monthly, consists of county and city law enforcement officers, prosecutors, mental health providers, school officials, DSS workers and others around the community who frequently work with sexual assault cases.

“Our MDT contains highly-trained professionals who intervene and investigate when there is suspected abuse,” Reinhardt said, “and work to place our child victims in a safe environment. To do this…our team members are working long hours, driving the extra mile, wearing different hats, dealing and interviewing alleged offenders and listening and hearing things that would be shocking to most.”

Members not only collaborate on how to best protect each victim and follow up with them to ensure they are receiving adequate care and healing, but the group also works to guarantee a proper investigation and prosecution for each case.

“I take my job and these cases extremely serious,” Renn said, “and I am honored that my fellow MDT members would nominate me for this award.”

One of the individuals who nominated the deputy was CAC’s Victims Services Coordinator Sue Gaither, who wrote about her appreciation for Renn based on a sexual assault trial that recently took place in a Lincoln County courtroom.

“Det. Renn sat with us and the child while we attempted to keep her calm and occupied with silly games,” Gaither stated in her nomination letter. “His presence and ongoing support meant a lot to our child victim and her family as well as to the CAC. He is a true advocate for our children.”

Renn hoped all abuse victims and their families understood their true value to him and other volunteers and staff members.

“They are not forgotten,” he said.

Renn joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2011 after spending nearly six years with the Lincolnton Police Department, where he served as patrol and K-9 officer.

He entered law enforcement a decade earlier, working his first police job with Metro Special Police in Charlotte, until he decided he wanted to serve the community in which he lived — Lincoln County.

Renn believed the career field would be the best place for him to simultaneously meet his passion for serving others and set an example for his daughter, Kelsey, 14.

“It was a career I had thought of often,” he said. “I just enjoy helping people.”

Last year alone, he worked with the Major Crimes Unit on over 85 abuse cases, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Coalition’s recipient for “Volunteer of the Year” was Seventh Day Adventist Church in Lincolnton.

The nonprofit chose the worship facility, officials said, because of church members’ support of the CAC’s foster programs and fundraising events.

“Every Christmas, they buy gifts and help put on a party for all the foster children in Lincoln County,” Reinhardt said, “as well as support the adolescent parenting program with resources and a party.”

The organization’s final award, the “Melinda Houser Award,” given for “passion in child protection,” Reinhardt said, was handed out in a three-way tie.

Lincoln County Schools along with Lincoln County and the City of Lincolnton each received the special honor for assistance in keeping the CAC’s doors open for 2013-14 after it faced the possibility of shutdown when the state dramatically slashed its budget last year.

Reinhardt remembers the emotional turmoil and uncertainty she and other volunteers and staff with the organization felt when they learned state officials had cut $233,000 of the CAC’s $260,000 annual budget.

“Approximately, one year ago this week,” she said, “I received a letter from the Governor’s Crime Commission saying that the Lincoln County CAC would not receive funding from them.”

Less than a week later, a team of local nonprofit officials and city and county leaders met to discuss a solution.

Without additional funding, the nonprofit faced closing down before the end of eight weeks, Reinhardt said.

Luckily, the finances came through including $105,000 from the county, $18,600 from the city and $20,000 from the county school system.

Additional funds needed were obtained through community donations and Coalition fundraisers.

“Our doors would have shut if not for those who quickly came to aid in the protection of our children,” Reinhardt said.

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