A harbor for our abused children
There is little I recall from this interview but one question.
It was a March 2005 day and Bay News 9 wanted to speak with the Chronicle’s senior reporter about the discovery of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford’s body in a shallow grave near her Homosassa home.
The community was stunned in disbelief and sadness. She had been missing for three weeks and the news was personal. Devastating best describes it.
The TV anchor asked if there would be any good that could come from her murder.
I shook my head. No way. No way the community would ever find a silver lining in this child’s violent death.
But, of course, we rarely feel grace in the midst of the storm.
The other day I attended the monthly meeting of the Community Alliance of Citrus County. It’s a coalition of organizations and agencies that cater directly to the people who need help.
I attend as part of my membership with Club Recovery of Citrus County, a nonprofit that hosts 12-step meetings in Hernando.
These community alliance meetings are filled with amazing advocates for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, addicted and others with nowhere to turn. It’s more than you think. WAY more.
This week’s meeting featured Melissa Bowermaster, executive director of the Citrus County Children’s Advocacy Center, better known as Jessie’s Place.
Five hundred kids who are abused mentally, physically and sexually come through Jessie’s Place each year. Experts help them cope with the unthinkable.
There’s also a list of about 20 kids who either must wait six to eight weeks for an opening at Jessie’s Place or seek alternative therapy.
Bowermaster said local experts were already discussing the need for an advocacy center — a safe place to help children who are victims of abuse while also building criminal cases against their attackers — when Jessica was kidnapped and murdered.
Today Jessie’s Place is an instantly recognized name in Citrus County, one we can trust to help our children during their most vulnerable and scary days.
Adults who hurt kids, well, that’s just a wicked kind of sickness right there. The damage done to these children is insurmountable. Advocates and experts at Jessie’s Place seek to make children feel whole again.
Jessica Lunsford’s kidnapping and murder was an unspeakable tragedy. The fact that today, 18 years later, we have an advocacy center designed to help abused children, and that center is in Jessica’s name, only proves God’s grace is beyond my understanding.
I told that news anchor 15 years ago that nothing good would ever come from Jessica’s death. I was wrong.
I don’t know why I’m bringing it up right now, other than April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Maybe it’s because Sunday is Easter. Maybe because I visited my grandson last Saturday and his 17-month-old laugh is still rattling around my head.
I just know this. It ain’t easy being a kid these days and grownups are making it harder. This weekend, this Easter weekend when we celebrate salvation, let’s give our young'uns an extra squeezy hug.
That or a chocolate bunny.
— I’m taking the government three-day holiday weekend so no blog on Friday. Please be safe out there and enjoy what Citrus County life has to offer.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.