Prevent Child Abuse speaker describes ‘mission’ to help kids

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 2, 2016

By Susan Shinn
For the Salisbury Post
The story seemed too real. The details were too accurate. The darkness of the tight space under the bleachers. The smell of a match being lit. The light of the match the only punctuation in the night.
A boy was savagely beaten and sexually assaulted and nearly choked to death under those bleachers. But he escaped, and he ran. When asked by his mother what happened to him, the boy said, “I was robbed.” The boy wasn’t too far off the mark, said Kevin McNeil, a special victims detective with the DeKalb County Police Department in Atlanta.McNeil, a motivational speaker, carries that boy with him — because he was that boy.

He’s worked to overcome the horrific abuse he suffered, and now asks the question of law enforcement officers and all who work with abused children, “Why do you do what you do?”

He said it’s often easy to answer “what” and “how,” but the “why” of someone’s job tends to dig deeper.

McNeil was the featured speaker at Friday’s Prevent Child Abuse Rowan annual brunch, an opportunity for nearly 100 local law enforcement, elected officials, board members and donors to come together to show their support for Prevent Child Abuse Rowan.

It was also a time to honor those supporters. Cheerwine and Mambo Grill received the business organization award and the community organization award, respectively. Additionally, Chi Chi Ray-Leazer and the Rowan County Sheriffs Office were named volunteers of the year, and Brian Stallings, Salisbury’s interim police chief, and Mark Wilhelm, a former police chief, were named winners of the Kathleen Russo Friend of the Child Award.

Matt Marsh has been on the board of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan for the past nine years. Dr. Kathleen Russo, the agency’s former medical director, had trained with him at the Forum, he said.

“She came up with the idea of a 5K for a fundraiser, and that’s how the Butterball 5K got started,” he said. “It got me involved. I’ve seen the agency grow and I’ve seen the end results of children who have gone through the Child Advocacy Center.”

It was years later that McNeil finally got help.

“It took a lot of work for me to be in front of you today,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones. Abuse is one of the most destructive forces in this world. Abuse turned inward is self-abuse or addiction. Abuse turned outward is violence. Abuse destroys your ability to have relationships and lose connections. It separates you from yourself and separates you from possibilities.”

McNeil now works to help abused children realize their potential, purpose and possibilities.

“I was robbed of all that,” he said, “and it took me 30-odd years to find myself again. We cannot be silent on this issue. I don’t just have a message, I have a mission.”

Beth McKeithan, executive director, shared information about Prevent Child Abuse Rowan’s work during the past year.

Their caseload has increased about 35 percent a year since 2013. That year, the agency conducted 113 forensic interviews. In 2014, that number rose to 192, and in 2015 was 244. Thus far in 2016, the agency has conducted 94 interviews.

“That’s because of awareness and because of teaching in our schools,” McKeithan said.

The agency is in its second year of its prevention and education program, led by Melissa Shue, McKeithan said. “We teach body safety and overall safety to first and fifth-graders. We’ve had numerous disclosures from children who have said, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to tell anybody.’ This program has been immensely successful.”

A new program is the Nurturing Parenting Program, in which Prevent Child Abuse Rowan is partnering with Smart Start Rowan.

“We are great at putting out fires once abuse happens, but what are we doing to get ahead of the game?” McKeithan asked, citing the reason for the new program.

McKeithan also noted that the Terrie Hess House would soon be undergoing an expansion.

“We are bursting at the seams with our space,” she said. “We’re looking at a possible expansion, and looking at plans and logistics. We are just super grateful to Novant.”

Novant rents the space for the Terrie Hess House to the agency for $1 a year.

McKeithan reminded the crowd about two upcoming events: Spin to End on May 7 at The Forum, and the second-annual Toss for Tots cornhole tournament Sept. 17 at the Trolley Barn.

Call Prevent Child Abuse Rowan at 704-639-1700 for details on both events.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.