KARE helps children who are victims of abuse
The nice, open room in the KARE house in Waynesville is a welcoming space. There’s books and toys and a wash of bright colors. There’s a rug featuring dolphins, hearts and shooting stars.
The space is comfortable, though the business conducted there is anything but.
“When a child comes in here to tell their story, they’re about the bravest things I’ve ever seen,” said Julie Schroer, executive director of KARE, or the Kids Advocacy Resource Effort.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It’s a time to recognize an issue that KARE is immersed in throughout the year.
“It’s kind of hard to put KARE in a box and define what we do,” Schroer said.
While its services are varied, KARE’s mission is straightforward: the organization works to help children that are victims of physical or sexual abuse. Partnering with local law enforcement, the non-profit assists families dealing with abuse issues.
Last year, KARE was involved with 194 cases. The organization helped conduct 83 forensic investigations.
“Basically, not putting any ideas in their head and giving them a platform to talk — to actually come forward and say it,” explained Paige Gilliland, a family and victim advocate with KARE.”
Gilliland works particularly close with families. As children and families go through an obviously painful experience, she fulfills needs that the myriad of authority types — law enforcement, the judicial system — cannot address.
“They can’t stop and spend an hour on the phone getting mom settled down,” Gilliland said. “I went to court with a mom and just sat there and rubbed here back. It’s easy things, just sitting there beside her letting her know she’s not alone.”
KARE also provides a number of community classes. The group speaks with children in schools. It offers classes geared toward caregivers and coaches. It works with parents, it conducts in-home visits.
The nonprofit has been serving Haywood County since 1991. Back then, local abuse statistics were a bit bleaker. When it came to reported incidents of abuse and neglect, the county topped North Carolina’s list.
“We’re not the first anymore, but we are still in the top five,” Schroer said.
Schroer doesn’t think Haywood actually has substantial higher rates of child abuse than other areas, but rather the community is more likely to report it. She likes to think KARE’s presence encourages such reporting.
“I don’t think we have more abuse,” Schroer said. “I think we’ve created an environment where more people report it.”
Detective Scott Muse, with the Waynesville Police Department, has been working with KARE since the 1990s.
“KARE has been very instrumental in dealing with child abuse,” Muse said. “It’s just grown and grown, gotten better and better.”
The detective said he gets a certain satisfaction out of helping the helpless.
“It means a lot,” Muse explained. “When you start talking about the elderly and the children, most people’s temper starts boiling.”
James Marsh, with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department, agrees. He also works with the non-profit, calling the organization’s efforts “life-changing for a lot of kids.”
The deputy quotes President Abraham Lincoln when summing up his feelings about working with the organization.
“Abraham Lincoln said a man never stands as tall as he does when he stoops to help a child,” Marsh said. “That’s the way I operate.”
And while the work is rewarding, it’s also taxing.
“It’s heartbreaking sometimes,” Marsh said. “I wouldn’t be ashamed to say, I carry a badge and a gun, but I’ve gone home and cried before.”
The work performed by KARE is dependent on funding. The nonprofit is funded through grants, donations and community fundraising efforts.
Race to benefit KARE
During Child Abuse Prevention Month, KARE is hosting its second annual 5K(ARE) benefit race in downtown Waynesville. The event will be held at 8 a.m., April 26. Races start at 8:30 a.m. More information may be obtained by visiting www.karehouse.org.