Donations, agency trying to bring happiness after sad events

Donations, agency trying to bring happiness after sad events

URBANA — Youngsters who visit the Children's Advocacy Center of Champaign County are usually there because something really bad has happened to them.

That's why Joni Markel of Sidell is sure her late sister would be pleased to know that money given in her honor is helping making the place more pleasant.

Markel's sister, Jayne Lynch, 55, of Fairmount, died Nov. 11 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition to dealing with the debilitating illness, she knew the pain of losing a loved one to a violent death.

Ms. Lynch was the grandmother of Macey Deuwer, a 10-month-old from St. Joseph who died in 2004 from blunt-force trauma from being shaken by her mother's then-boyfriend. In the wake of that tragedy, Ms. Lynch, Markel and other family members became ardent supporters of the Children's Advocacy Center (CAC), a place where children who have been physically abused go to tell a trusted adult what has happened to them.

The center opened in 2000 and serves as a place away from a police station where trained interviewers can glean from children the details of such atrocities as being beaten or sexually molested. The interviews are videotaped in what appears to be a child-friendly environment for later use in criminal prosecutions.

"It's a big room where kids become acclimated and get comfortable," Markel said. "They want more permanent storage for toys, new toys and a new chair. It has needed to be spruced up for a long time. I can't think of anything that Jayne would like more than to help these kids feel more comfortable and happy and make that room brighter and more cheerful."

In fact, donations in Jayne Lynch's name account for more than a third of the $2,000 that CAC administrators hope to raise in the next month to make the place where awful secrets must be shared not seem so awful. Executive Director Adelaide Aime recently sent a letter to supporters asking for help.

"Our overarching goal is to make it very warm and comfortable for the child and their families," said Aime. "When they come, they are very tense and fearful. To that end, what we want to do with our playroom is make it more warm and inviting."

One of the items Aime has her eye on is a reading nook with walls and windows — "a little protected place where a child could come in and look at books and curl up and feel safe at a time when they are talking about things that make them feel very unsafe."

Aime calls the children who come in to tell police and social workers what has happened to them "heroes."

The Markels and Lynches of the world are another kind of hero, she said, for supporting the nonprofit organization.

"The reason that donations like this are gold to nonprofits is that we get operating funds, but they very rarely pay for anything in the facility," Aime said of the restrictions surrounding most grants. "They pay for salaries and office supplies but won't buy me baby dolls."

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz is chairwoman of the governing board for the CAC, which has been housed at 201 W. Kenyon Road, C, since 2007. That's the same building just west of Neil Street in north Champaign where the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has its offices.

She, too, was thrilled to hear of the donations in Jayne Lynch's name and applauded Aime for consulting Markel on how Ms. Lynch's family wanted to spend the money.

"One definite need we had was updating the toys and other child-friendly items," Rietz said, citing the continued use of VHS tapes in VCRs as an example of the dated state of their entertainment items.

Aime also said she'd like to replace the beat-up plastic tubs and worn toys as well as install bookshelves and storage units that children can easily reach.

"The kids will be able to find toys more easily, and a clutter-free room is much more calming for both kids and adults who are waiting," she said in her solicitation letter.

How to help

Anyone willing to donate can send checks to: Children's Advocacy Center of Champaign County, 201 W. Kenyon Road, Suite 1, Champaign, IL, 61820.

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