The Children’s Advocacy Center of Hamilton County announces several award recipients from its One with Courage Awards Luncheon this month. The One with Courage Awards Luncheon celebrates champions of children in our area who enrich the lives of kids through help, hope, or healing and honors those who support the children served by the CACHC through giving, service, or voluntarism.
CACHC Executive Director, Shelley McGraw, opened the program with an introduction of Mayor Andy Berke, who, along with Judge Curtis Collier, read and presented a joint proclamation for Child Abuse Awareness Month from the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
Guest speaker for the event was Erin Merryn, celebrated author and public figure who suffered years of sexual abuse and rape as a child and teenager. In 1998, she broke her silence at the age of 13 at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Northwest Cook County in Illinois. She published her childhood diary into the book Stolen Innocence when she was a senior in high school and began traveling the country in 2005 telling her story.
To date, Ms. Merryn has appeared on Oprah, CNN, MSNBC, and more than a dozen other international media outlets and was named Glamour Magazine 2012 Woman of the Year and a 2013 People Magazine Heroes Among Us. In 2009 she began lobbying to create Erin’s Law which calls for children in public schools to receive age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention education and for adults to receive training on the signs of abuse and the proper way to react to a disclosure of abuse from a child. To date, Erin’s Law has passed in more than 12 states with Tennessee being one of the most recent.
Help, Hope, and Healing Awards were announced by Monique Berke, chair of the One with Courage Awards committee. Recipients of the Help Award were Chris and Dorothy Rolle with finalists Lurone Jennings, Sr. and Frances McDonald. This award recognizes those having courage to take action to help children in need or crisis. Each morning, Chris and Dorothy Rolle prepare a hot, healthy breakfast for Avondale neighborhood school children who are waiting for their bus. Compelled to intervene when many of these children who were walking long distances were going to school hungry, the Rolles began cooking and serving food in a tent outside of their home across from the bus stop. Mr. and Mrs. Rolle want these children to realize someone cares for them and see this ministry as an opportunity to not only feed their bodies but to enrich their lives with a positive attitude and sense of respect for others.
Finalists for the Hope Award were Kayla Austin, Michael Cranford, and Hannah Vann. The Hope Award recognizes those who have the courage to inspire or educate children by offering hope for their future. Receiving the Hope Award was Kayla Austin. During a mission trip to Peurto Lempira, Honduras, Kayla encountered an 11 year-old boy with cerebral palsy locked in a room, naked, in deplorable conditions. So moved by this child’s situation, she began the process of obtaining legal custody and a medical visa to the U.S. where he now thrives. She has since founded a non-profit to support and empower girls and women in Honduras and will soon move there to direct the first phrase of the project.
Finalists for the Healing Award were Katherine Burnett, Joe and Paula Smith, and Dr. Julie Zielinski. The Hope Award recognizes those who have the courage to make hurting children whole by providing healing to their mind, body, or spirit. Receiving the Healing Award was Dr. Julie Zielinski. Using her personal time and finances, Dr. Zielinski travels to medically underserved areas throughout the world to perform surgeries, treat orthopedic conditions in children, educate medical staff, and transport medical supplies. On a recent mission trip to Ethiopia, she performed extensive surgery on a teenage girl with a rare bone disorder who had been ostracized, abused, and raped because of her handicap.
Announcing the CACHC Volunteer Awards was Board Chair, Mark Huth. These awards are given annually to recognize those who support the children served by the CACHC through giving, service, or voluntarism.
The Child Protective Investigative Team Member of the Year award was presented to Mrs. Lilly Rucker. Selected by her peers for her 15 years of dedication and compassion to the children she serves, Mrs. Rucker is described as an “unsung hero, and a kind example to us all.”
The Presidential Award was presented to Mr. Scott McDearman. Mr. McDearman has provided many years of legal expertise to the CACHC staff, accompanying staff to court proceedings, always being available for legal questions, and reviewing nearly every subpoena the agency receives to advise the staff on their next steps.
The Janet Ricks McConnell Corporate Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Gold Bond, Inc. for the company’s generous support through corporate donation, product donation for events, and overall support for the CACHC’s mission. Accepting the award was Gold Bond, Inc. President, Mr. Mark Godsey.
The Curtis L. Collier Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Ms. Tracey Spiekermann. Ms. Spiekermann was selected for this award for her dedicated service of volunteering at special events, fundraisers, clerical assistance, and willingness to always help wherever needed.
The final award of the day was the Emeline W. Haney Award, the agency’s highest honor award. Receiving the award was Ms. Linda Elligan, CACHC clinical director, for her 20 years of service counseling hundreds of children affected by child abuse and her part in helping make the CACHC as important in the lives of the most vulnerable as it was established to do.