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Children’s advocacy center in Panama City reopens after Hurricane Michael devastates building

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 6:30 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Across the state of Florida, there are 27 advocacy centers providing support, resources and a listening ear to those who have been victimized by sexual abuse.

One center in Panama City lost everything during Hurricane Michael, and during Child Abuse Prevention Month, they are reopening their doors to continue to be a safe space for others.

For a victim of sexual abuse, their trauma is a lifelong journey, and these centers provide not only legal assistance, but people to speak with and a place to just feel safe and know you are not alone

“I wish I had a place like that when i was a kid, dealing with the things that I had to deal with,” admitted founder of Lauren’s Kids, Senator Lauren Book.

Sen. Book experienced sexual abuse when she was a child, so founding Lauren’s Kids has made advocacy her life’s mission.

“One of those places that just provides hope, healing, and so much more to these children and families in our state and it breaks that cycle of abuse,” added Sen. Book.

Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center holds a special place in her heart. Three years ago, it was destroyed.

Their Executive Director, Lori Allen, said there are no words to describe the feeling.

“Devastating is just not a strong enough word, we were forever impacted,” described Allen.

The storm was an extra burden for many already dealing with their own trauma. That’s why their work didn’t stop with the loss of their site.

“Back of pick up trucks, McDonald’s parking lots, front porches that existed. When people needed us, that is where we went,” said Allen.

The site is now back open and fully operational as an essential resource for 300 children and 100 adults a month.

Executive Director at the Florida Network-Child Advocacy, Cindy Vallely, said, “t gives you that support that you need in order to come forward.”

“It’s really creating a sustained productivity for individuals who have been impacted by crime, and to let them know their life is not forever defined by this horrible thing,” said Allen.

The aim of the center is wanting to continue providing healing and hope. “Where kids can go beyond the things that happened to them, heal, and become thriving survivors,” explained Sen. Book

Allen added that they are places “To dispel the shame and the guilt and the silence that is often imposed on victims,” said Allen. “To stand with them, stand tall with them. and provide that restoration.”

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