Children walk through the butterfly gate to heal

By Victoria

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Entwined in its King Street,{} wrought iron gate is a butterfly - a symbol of renewal, freedom and delicate strength. A perfect description of what you will find inside the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center.

"We see children heal from trauma," said center development and marketing{}director, Ann Belden Read. "We see families believe and support their children despite an initial struggle."

You might say, they make the monsters go away.

Consider the case of convicted child molester Skip Reville. He confessed to sexually abusing dozens of Lowcountry boys, hiding behind the disguise of bible study leader and coach. If it wasn't for the work of the Dee Norton Children's Lowcountry Children's Center, he would likely remain a dangerous secret.

"As mandated reporters, our job is to report allegations of child abuse," said Read. "Despite so many reasons not to, like threats, shame and embarrassment, the child is able to tell."

One child's strength likely saved countless others from suffering.

The Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center has been protecting children from abuse and helping them heal for more than 21 years. It was originally created in 1989 and renamed as it opened its King Street doors in 1991 in memory of one of its founders and long time volunteers, Dee Holmes Norton.

It brings together child protective services, law enforcement, as well as medical, legal, educational and mental health professionals. It's a coordinated approach to helping children. What's more, it's at no cost to the family.

Since 1991, the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center has opened its doors to more than 20,000 children and their families.

"Child abuse is not a new issue," said Read.{} "The good news is that society as a whole is talking about it more openly, identifying it as a problem and working hard to hold those who hurt children accountable."

It's a challenging job, to say the least.{}

"For a parent, thinking that your child was hurt and you were unaware or unable to prevent the abuse is a nightmare."

But just walk in the center and you'll find a feeling of comfort. The lobby is loaded with piles of books and inviting toys. The hallways are hand painted with colorful murals and the furniture in the interview rooms is not intimidating. It's child size.

Much of what makes it cozy comes from the community. Donations are a big part of what keeps the center going.

"Always, resources are an issue. There are so many families and children who need services but lack funds," said Read.

Dee Norton does not charge, but nothing is free.

"The cost to provide services to one child per year is approximately $1,400," Read explains.

That's where the community comes in. The center is always looking for donations, volunteers and people the simply spread the word.

"We don't have to be in this work," said Read. "We have the privilege to be in this work."

But for the Dee North Lowcountry Children's Center to work, they need the community to work, to embrace a community problem.


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