New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center Celebrates a Milestone Anniversary
It’s not often you meet someone who wishes to work themselves out of a job, but that is the wish of many who work at Blount County’s New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center. The center was first founded in 2003 to provide essential services and support to victims of child abuse. Back in those days, the New Hope Task Force had no more than a dozen members and worked out of a residence on Kate Street. 2023 marks 20 years since New Hope first moved into that little house with a dream of protecting the children of Blount County, and even though they’ve since traded their homey old base of operations for a modern purpose-built building, they still work every day to bring the safety and comfort of home to vulnerable children during their most challenging chapters.
“Some days we wish we didn’t have our job because obviously we don’t want kids to be abused,” says event coordinator Katelyn Witucki. “But being able to come in and help to prevent that, and also help walk these kids through it, is the big reason why I come to work.”
New Hope’s goal is to make the investigation and treatment process as easy and painless as possible for the child. With their own in-house experts, and working closely with local law enforcement and the District Attorney General’s office, they make sure children get the medical and personal attention they need. Too often in traditional investigations, children would have to relive their trauma again and again to half a dozen different investigators; here, in the Advocacy Center’s cozy, warmly-painted interview room, they only need to tell their story once, with all the necessary personnel just a few doors down the hall, waiting for the call. Last year, New Hope served 725 children in need. Upwards of 90 children receive therapeutic treatment at New Hope every week.
The job has been made harder, however, by recent state-wide budget cuts, which have reduced state funding for New Hope by 25 percent. “We are at an annual deficit of $40,000,” says development director Ashley Fontenot regarding the budget cuts. She later elaborates, “That is a forensic interviewer position, or a child family advocate position. It is a person here who needs to interact with these kids.” To make up the difference, New Hope marked its 20th anniversary with the 20 for 20 program, which asked patrons to make a $20 monthly contribution, matched dollar-for-dollar by an anonymous donor. The hope was to raise $20,000, a goal that was exceeded by more than $10,000.
“We still have a lot of work to do this year,” Fontenot says, “but we are incredibly appreciative of our community, both those who give and those who have helped spread the word.” Outside of financial support, the organization accepts donations of blankets, stuffed animals, and a host of other items to help the children they serve (you can find a full wish list on their website), and they are constantly looking for volunteers to help at events, like their annual Heroes for Hope 5k, which this year was the capstone for their 20 for 20 program.
“One in ten children are going to be abused physically or sexually before they turn eighteen, and we want to be there for them when that abuse occurs,” Fontenot says. Taking care of these children has been the program’s mission for two decades, and despite the budget cuts, they have no intentions of going anywhere. “By supporting New Hope in these events, financially [through] 20 for 20,” Fontenot adds, “you’re ultimately coming alongside us and helping to support these kids and prevent [abuse] from happening again.”
To learn more about New Hope and the work they’re doing to support children, visit blountkids.org.