Making the Impossible Possible

Emily Chittenden-Laird By Emily Chittenden-Laird

We are celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 4th at the Culture Center in Charleston. This week marks the third in a series of blogs reflecting year-by-year on the history, moments, and people of the CAC movement in West Virginia. To start with the first entry, click here.

They told us it would take three years. The experienced lobbyists said nobody ever gets funding the first time they ask.

The network of child advocacy centers had no staff—a volunteer-run coalition—but we did have one legislative win under our belts. And we had a mission: we knew that we would need a stable source of ongoing funding if we were going to take the CAC model statewide.

I’ll never forget the day Trudy Laurenson (then-Director of the Child & Youth Advocacy Center in Lewisburg and then co-chair of WVCAN) pulled me into her office and told me, an early-20-something bright-eyed AmeriCorps VISTA, that we needed to get a million dollars. And she was pretty busy, so she’d like for me to work with Monica Acord, the forensic interviewer at our center, to get it done.

[Deep breath. Gulp. We’ve got this.]

So Monica and I started going to the Capitol in late 2007 to figure out what we were doing. We relied heavily on our local Delegate, Tom Campbell, who was then on the leadership team in the House of Delegates, to show us the ropes. Fortunately, he was also connected to some powerful women (Delegates Carrie Webster and Virginia Mahan) who cared a lot about child victims of abuse and were going to do their damndest to make sure CACs could survive and thrive in West Virginia. In fact, we had a whole network of support we weren’t even aware of from the grassroots connections around the state: legislators who had first-hand knowledge of what the CAC in their area was doing.

We really didn’t know anything, so we asked questions—LOTS of questions. We met with staff. We met with leadership. We met with freshman legislators. We met with anyone who would listen. And we found allies—lots of them. Some folks believed in the CAC model as a way to save money through a more efficient responses. Other legislators wanted to protect the innocence of childhood. Others still knew first-hand: they were survivors; their sons, daughters, or grandchildren were survivors of abuse.

Ultimately, our coalition of supporters convinced the powers that be (Finance Chairs Harry Keith White and Walt Helmick) that this was something the state couldn’t not do (and Chairs White and Helmick were tremendous supporters, too). Both the House and the Senate added a $1 million line that would flow through the Division of Justice and Community Services to support the work of CACs statewide. We waited to exhale while Governor Manchin wrote his veto message and signed the budget into law, which kept our money at the $1 million amount the Legislature had appropriated.

[Deep breath. Exhale. We did this.]

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