In the Beginning

Emily Chittenden-Laird By Emily Chittenden-Laird

All movements start somewhere: a place. And that place becomes important to the narrative of the movement. The first child advocacy center in West Virginia was in Hinton, West Virginia, at REACHH. Peggy Rossi had been a leader in her community, and she worked hard to meet the needs she saw. But there was one need she saw that wasn’t being met: children who made an outcry of abuse needed a better response. They were getting passed around the system, interviewed time after time after time. And they needed an advocate – someone to walk with them through the process. So she opened the first child advocacy center in West Virginia.

But Peggy wasn’t alone. There were other men and women in the Southern part of the state who had the same concerns and a similar vision: we could create a better response for children. No matter what happened in the criminal justice system or the child protection system, it mattered that someone was focusing on the needs of the child and doing their best to give them a chance at hope and healing. In the early aughts, these individuals (women, actually) began to meet in the region to learn from one another and to support one another in the hard work of program development and team building. Then word spread that there were folks in Wheeling and Martinsburg that were working on developing child advocacy centers, too.

The stars (and pioneers) aligned, and the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network was born as an informal networking group. I remember my first meeting in Sutton with this group in 2006; I was an AmeriCorps VISTA new to the state, and I got my first taste of organizing. These folks had the same struggles: community partners who didn’t work together well, scarce resources, meeting national standards in a rural, resource-poor state; but they also had the same passions, and their passion was contagious.

In 2006, by-laws were established, and the group agreed to incorporate and formalize. WVCAN was its own volunteer-run 501(c)(3). And I got to watch it happen. And the places then and now are vivid in my mind as the birth of a movement—a movement today that has impacted over 20,000 West Virginia children.

We are celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 4th at the Culture Center in Charleston. This week marks the first in a series of blogs reflecting year-by-year on the history, moments, and people of the CAC movement in West Virginia. We hope you’ll join us on this journey of reflection.

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