Fort Bend, Texas—Child Advocates of Fort Bend, Texas, serves abused and neglected children through two programs. For abused and neglected children in the child welfare system, the agency pairs each child with a court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer. These volunteers advocate in court for a child's physical, emotional, and educational needs.
At its Children's Advocacy Center, children can tell their stories to a forensic interviewer in a safe, child-friendly environment and receive therapy and case management support so that they can heal from the trauma of abuse. Child Advocates collaborates with the district attorneys, county attorneys, law enforcement and Children's Protective Services. Since its inception in 1991, Child Advocates has served nearly 10,000 children.
When Child Advocates was founded, the organization made two promises. The first was that every single child in the CPS system would have a CASA volunteer. The second was that all of its services would always be free.
As the need for Child Advocates has increased in the community, expenses continued to rise, and the economy took a turn for the worse, development directors worried that they might not be able to continue upholding those promises if they didn't revamp their fundraising program.
Ruthanne Mefford, executive director, says that Child Advocates came to Benevon because they wanted "control and predictability" in their fundraising.
"We wanted to have the ability to project and have ongoing fundraising programs, rather than starting from scratch every year," she says.
The team also wanted to increase public awareness about child abuse, another component of their mission statement.
Says Mefford, "Fort Bend always gets accolades for being 'the best place to live,' 'the safest place,' but it's shocking that we have this horrific problem of child abuse, and it's a silent epidemic that people don't know about."
Holding Point of Entry tours has helped Child Advocates to increase public awareness about child abuse in the community. Called "Voices for Children," the tour focuses on three "buckets": "provide a voice, heal the hurt, and break the cycle." Each bucket is introduced by way of a testimonial. One of those testimonials is about a young girl named Susan.
When Federal agents investigated a tip about a man selling Internet pornography, they discovered thousands of images of child pornography. Among them were photographs of a girl who looked strikingly like the girl in the next room, the man's daughter. That little girl was Susan, who disclosed to Child Advocates that her father had been sexually abusing her for two years.
Susan came to Child Advocates for therapy for the next four years. She is now 19, enrolled in college, and has an apartment and a job. Her father is serving a 50-year sentence.
Mefford says that her team has begun sharing Susan's story, along with others, in their Points of Entry "in a box," at different locations throughout the community. One moment of cultural breakthrough and awareness came when Mefford's team held a Point of Entry at a local Hindu temple.
There, 300 women listened with rapt attention as Mefford spoke openly about child abuse, a taboo topic within the Hindi community. Following the presentation, a Hindu woman expressed interest in becoming involved with Child Advocates. She now acts as a leader within her community, helping women to come forward about abuse happening in their homes.
When it came time to create the program for their Ask Event, the Child Advocates' team reached out to people within the community and former foster care children and therapy clients to create a video filled with moving testimonials. Mefford says that when it was shown, "you could have heard a pin drop in the room."
The effect was apparent not only by the silence of the room, but also in the pledges of support. Child Advocates raised $203,000 at that first Ask Event, with a leadership gift of $108,700.
The organization has clear fundraising goals for the future, including raising $1 million in operation funding every year for the next ten years, and growing an endowment of $25 million by this time. They also plan to increase their Multiple-Year Giving Society donor pledges by 12% every year.
Mefford says that Benevon has transformed the organization's approach to fundraising, from short-term to long-term.
"This has helped us think strategically," she says. "We have done real work with goal setting, benchmarking, and resource management. Minor setbacks haven't derailed us because we have much more of a long-term goal. If our gala didn't achieve the numbers that we had budgeted, in the old days everyone would have gotten very concerned. This year we commented, 'Well, it's good we have Benevon now.'"
Benevon has also had a great impact on the connection between Child Advocates and its community.
"One of the goals of our mission is to make the public aware of child abuse," Mefford says. "We look back on the methods we were using before and see that they weren't nearly as effective as getting people in here for tours or taking tours in a box. When we look at the numbers and see that we've had 392 people come through our building this year who never would have set foot in here before—because we didn't have a vehicle for that to happen— that's huge."
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