Fundraising in support of kids who have been abused

MARQUETTE — Those in the city of Marquette this weekend can run, walk or jog along the shore of Lake Superior to benefit the new Superior Child Advocacy Center, which aims to help children who have endured physical and sexual abuse.

The Lead the Way 5K event will take place, rain or shine, at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Mattson Lower Harbor Park. Participants will take off from the bell tower and wind along the bike path to the Picnic Rocks area at Shiras Park and back.

The National Children’s Advocacy Center, which was formed in 1985, reports there are currently over 800 CACs in communities throughout the country and globally, which served around 324,000 children in 2016.

When police or child protective services believe a child is being abused, the child is brought to a CAC by a caregiver of “safe person.” At the center, the child tells their story to a trained interviewer “who knows the right questions to ask in a way that does not re-traumatize the child,” the national CAC website states, while a team made up of medical professionals, law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, victim advocacy and other professionals watch from a veiled room before they determine how to help the child.

Hannah Syrjala, a member of the local CAC’s fundraising committee, said CAC helps lessen the traumatic experience because children don’t have to retell their story over and over again.

After the interview process, staff help children and their families obtain all the tools they need need to live successful lives.

“One of the things the center does is make sure families have the right counselors because when a child is being abused it’s often by someone they know and it affects the whole family,” she said.

CAC is funded entirely through grants and the generosity of the community, Syrjala said.

“We have some awesome sponsors and just from their generosity, we’ve raised $2,000 so far for the advocacy center,” she said.

The center is in need of video equipment that’ll be used during forensic interviews, computers, furniture and other items.

“We want to make sure it’s a comfortable and non-threatening space for the children and the multi-disciplinary team as well,” Syrjala said.

Having a center like this in Marquette has been on the radar for a few years, according to Syrjala. Things have been falling into place, she said, and a board of directors was just established in December.

Marquette’s center will be located along Third Street in a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners center. Syrjala anticipates it could open by the end of summer.

“Nobody wants to think kids are going through this,” she said. “We live in a pretty safe community, but it’s an unfortunate reality that there’s a need for something like this in Marquette County and entire Upper Peninsula.”

Registration for Lead the Way 5K, which costs $25 for adults and $10 for ages 10 and younger, is open until midnight on Friday. Finishers will get a medal and a T-shirt. The event is not timed, but there’ll be a clock at the finish line for those wishing to keep track. Participants can sign-in at 9 a.m. at Lower Harbor on Saturday.

Visit superiorcac.org to register for the event, donate to the center or find out more information.