After fundraising success, new Summit County Children’s Justice Center could open next spring
The Summit County Children’s Justice Center has a new home.
The center’s founder, Dr. Christina Sally, described the standalone facility on Silver Summit Parkway and the successful fundraising campaign that paid for it as the culmination of a vision years in the making.
“It is so vital that our children have a safe place to go,” she said. “We can expand services in such a private setting — in the therapeutic realm, (in) mental health services and help families move through this trauma.”
The CJC is the first place kids go in the law enforcement system after they’ve disclosed abuse or neglect. It’s imperative the place is private, comfortable and welcoming so the children aren’t further traumatized, Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson has said.
The center moved to its current location next to the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Sheldon Richins building in 2012. It shares a door with the Bookmobile librarian and was always intended to be a temporary space, Olson said. The CJC will continue to operate there until it moves into the new building, which is adjacent to the southbound U.S. 40 on-ramp. Some know the location as the Zebra House because the previous owners hosted a menagerie of animals visible from the road. The move could happen as soon as next spring.
The site was picked late last summeer and organizers entered into an agreement with the landowners and ramped up fundraising efforts to pay for it.
Staring down an Oct. 15 deadline to make a large mortgage payment, the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center, a nonprofit that supports the CJC, held a fundraiser in late August that the group’s president said got them over the finish line. But it wasn’t until mid-September that the pledges had been collected and it was clear they had raised the last $400,000 needed to own the home outright, pay for renovations and seed the endowment to pay for things like a new roof or boiler.
The campaign raised $2.8 million over 3 1/2 years from 329 donors, according to Harry Kirschner, board president of Friends of the Children’s Justice Center. Originally, the group had assumed the effort would take five to 10 years and cost about $10 million.
A key factor in the campaign’s speed was a lower-than-market-value property price and an advantageous financing arrangement offered by the home’s previous owners, he said. Some donors also anonymously offered to pay for large chunks of the project, like matching certain funds or paying for the renovations.
Kirschner explained the best practices for such a facility is for it to be privately owned by a group like the one he leads and then leased to the operator for a small fee. One benefit of the arrangement is the group will own the building in perpetuity and it will not be used for another purpose, he said. Summit County’s is the only Children’s Justice Center in the state that shares its space, Olson said.
Kirschner and Olson pointed to the support of County Council Chair Roger Armstrong in helping to lead the fundraising effort. In an interview, Armstrong said the cause has personal resonance. In one of his first cases as a lawyer, he attempted to protect a child who was being abused, but ultimately could not. That child, a 2-year-old boy, was later beaten to death by a relative.
Armstrong was instrumental in finding a new home for the CJC, Kirschner said, making introductions to donors in the community and speaking during governmental meetings to try to drum up support. Summit County contributed $250,000 to the effort, Park City $100,000 and other area municipalities including Coalville, Francis and Kamas and Henefer have all pledged monetary support.
The center’s director is Ted Walker and the multi-disciplinary team that provides services includes about 15-20 people who have a combined 200 years of experience working with children who have been abused, Olson said.
Sally, who recently earned a doctorate in forensic psychology, is one of the team members trusted to interview children. Those interviews are videotaped and often done with representatives from other law enforcement agencies present to prevent the children from having to tell and retell their stories.
Sally is excited about the expansion opportunities the new facility offers, including possibly a home for Camp Safety, which she runs and uses to teach kids about many aspects of staying safe.
She and Olson also envision future programming that might include support services for those adjacent to the abuse, including non-offending caregivers and siblings, and possible group therapy sessions.
Kirschner said the friends group is working to publicize the services offered at the new center and slowly pivot to prevention and increasing awareness, which might lead to reducing the stigma for victims of abuse and encourage others to come forward.
He expects to secure the building permit for renovations next week.
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