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It’s the time of year when blue and silver pinwheels blow in the wind in various public locations throughout Lincoln County. While a pinwheel is a whimsical toy that many children have played with, the childhood of some living in the county has been cut short due to child abuse or neglect. April is Child Abuse Awareness month, and the pinwheels are intended to bring awareness this type of abuse that thrives in secrecy and darkness.

On a mission to investigate and prosecute abusers, help victims and their families through their trauma, and prevent future occurrences is the Lincoln County Child Coalition Against Child Abuse, the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center and the circle of law enforcement, therapists, doctors and others who work together on a daily basis with abused children and their families. 

They collaborate as a team to investigate abuse or neglect and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice. They also provide services to the victim and if necessary, the victim’s family to get through this trauma. The investigators, interviewers, law enforcement and those working at the district attorney’s office are so good at their jobs, in the past decade, except for one instance where there was a hung jury, whenever they’re able to get a perpetrator to trial, they have a 100% conviction rate. Unfortunately, not all of them are able to go to trial.

This all costs money – a lot of it. Some of it comes from grants, federal and state funds, however, these funds are not guaranteed. Sherry Reinhardt, the director of the child advocacy center said that she’s not sure if they’ll get any grants this year because it’s based on a lottery and federal funds have been cut 67% this year.

“We won a two-year grant in 2019 for therapy because we’re an underserved population, rural and have a big Hispanic community,” she said. “I applied for that again this year and I’ll know in June if we got it or not. We’re treating it as if we don’t have it because we don’t know.”

In addition, there’s only certain services and items that these funds can be used for and for many of the covered expenses, the CAC has to pay for the services up front and show that they have an operating budget throughout the year. 

“They’re reimbursement grants where you pay the expenses allowed and submit receipts and they reimburse you,” she said. “They’re also 80% grants which means the CAC is responsible for 20% of allowable cost. So if my grant was for $100,000 for services we are responsible for $20,000 of the cost of services and they will reimburse the other $80,000.”

For example, this past year, Reinhardt shared that the CAC had a set of twins under five years old as clients. One of them had head trauma and was sent to Levine Children’s Hospital.

“While the mother was at Levine with the grandmother, the perpetrator slashed her car tires so she could not go back and forth to the hospital,” she said. “We covered tires so that she could be with the child.”

In the past year, the center provided six lice treatments, which are very expensive, six mattresses for infants who went into foster care, a blow-up mattress for a child who had to stay at DSS until she could get into a group.

“We’ve had a couple of families in the past year who had food insecurities that were living in a hotel with no transportation to go to the food kitchen, so we delivered, or we had Walmart deliver them food,” Reinhardt said. “Any time there’s a child in the hospital that goes to Lincoln County Schools, we make them a sunshine basket and take it to them.”

Therapy is free of all of their clients, adults and children. Grants pay for the children, but not the adults. If a nonoffending parent needs therapy, the CAC pays for it out of general funds. 

“That’s where most of the expense is because therapy’s expensive,” she said. “I got a grant to buy tablets for teletherapy during COVID, but it didn’t cover the cost of the ear buds to hear it. They needed to be confidential, so we bought them. From day to day, we really don’t know what’s coming through the door.”

During the first quarter of 2020, the CAC had 50 clients. For the same period in 2021, they’ve seen 83. It was anticipated that there’d be an uptick in clients once children returned to school. The total number for 2020 was 140.

Each year, the coalition holds a “Price is Right” styled fundraiser which raised almost $30,000 this year. Another annual fundraiser is the “Cigars, Bourbon and Benefactors” which was spearheaded by board member Ross Bulla in 2017 to share his favorite things, cigars and bourbon. It couldn’t be held last year due to COVID but will be held on Oct. 9 this year. This is the fourth year Bulla has sponsored this event and it’s grown steadily each year. In 2019, the event raised $150,000, all of which went to the CAC to help fund those expenses not covered by grants, federal or state funds.

Cigars, Bourbon and Benefactors is a ticketed event and Bulla is currently looking for event sponsors as well as food and beverage sponsors. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://cbbdenvernc.com

“Child Abuse Awareness Month is about a community coming together to protect children,” Reinhardt said. “I can promise you that no county in North Carolina does a better job than Lincoln County.”

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