By JOANNE FOX
Organizers behind raising funds to move the Mercy Child Advocacy Center (MCAC) to a free-standing building from Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City expressed almost no trepidation their plans would not succeed.
“We knew from the start that God would bless this fundraising project because God’s work is being done for these children who have been victimized,” said Lea Greathouse, executive director of the Mercy Foundation, “We had faith that it would come together, and it has.”
Bishop Walker Nickless will bless the new $3 million center at 4 p.m., July 11. The new facility is located at 701 Jackson St., a former wholesale electrical supply company, about one block north of the hospital.
MCAC is a child-friendly program dedicated to serving victims of abuse. The staff assists law enforcement and the courts in getting perpetrators off the street, allowing the abused to tell their story, keeping them safe and protecting their dignity.
The move to an independent building had been discussed and investigated for several years, Greathouse explained.
“What truly prompted the move from the hospital was the need for confidentiality and security for the children,” she said. “We wanted a space designed specifically for this use and for children not to have to come into a hospital setting.”
A “campaign cabinet” of about 30 community members worked with Greathouse in soliciting donations for the $3 million project.
“We also wrote and received several grants including a Special Project Grant of $150,000 from Missouri River Historical Development (the non-profit license holder of the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City),” she said.
Greathouse reported MCAC’s community partners, such as the Sioux City Police Department, were vital in helping to tell the center’s story to potential donors.
“Our Foundation Board believed in this project from the beginning,” she said. “They really leaned into the work of communicating, educating and asking.”
Since opening at the hospital in 1989, the Mercy Child Advocacy Center has served more than 5,000 children. It is one of 250 full members of the National Children’s Alliance, a nationwide, not-for-profit organization that assists communities seeking to improve their response to child abuse.
According to Barb Small, MCAC manager, it was a tragedy that served as the impetus for starting the center.
“The need was triggered by an incident in the Mercy Emergency Room when a young boy was brought in with multiple life-threatening injuries of varying stages of healing,” she recalled. “The story given did not match the injuries and there was no team to work together to process this case; we felt we failed when he died.”
A team consisting of law enforcement, the Woodbury county attorney, Department of Human Services, and Mercy nurses, social workers, and administration met multiple times, visited a similar center in Cedar Rapids, and after one year, MCAC opened.
The general demographics of a child seen by the Mercy Child Advocacy staff are: 80 percent are under the age of 12; about 60 percent are girls and 70 percent are alleging sexual abuse.
“The numbers have increased over the years. We started out the first year with 300,” Small noted. “We interview children from age three up to developementally-delayed adults, from about 40 counties in the three-state area.”
On June 19, staff started seeing their first clients, who were welcomed by a sculpture of three, large heads, called Noggins.
“They were made possible with a grant from the Gilchrist Foundation,” Greathouse said. “We wanted the entrance to be interesting and child-like and definitely thought the Noggins fit that.”
Greathouse had seen the figures at an Art Walk event benefitting the Sioux City Conservatory of Music at the home of Ron and Gia Emory several years ago.
“When thinking about art for the MCAC exterior, my mind went immediately to the Noggins,” she said. “We wanted their faces up front and greeting you when you come and when you leave. They are like a mom and her children.”
Small characterized the new space as “a beautiful, welcoming and child-friendly.”
“We have the ability to see more than one child at a time – with no delay in services – and still maintain confidentiality,” she said. “For all of our team to be in one place, plus allowing space for law enforcement and the Department of Human Services, is all part of the joy of this new facility.”
By the numbers
- 5,000 children treated since 1989
- 800 anticipated clients this year
- 12 full-time, on-call staff
- 0 cost for services
If you suspect child abuse, call the Child Abuse Hotline, toll-free, (800) 362-2178.