by Tori Hamby
Lake Norman Christian School students spent a day away from their books, picking up shovels, paintbrushes and wheelbarrows as they helped restore an abandoned home that will eventually become a Lincoln County child advocacy center.
As part of Hands, Heart and Feet Day – Lake Norman Christian’s semiannual service day – sixth- through 10th-grade students spent almost four hours April 13 installing tile, planting shrubbery and doing an array of chores inside and around the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse and Child Advocacy Center’s future home, at 161 Policarp St. in Lincolnton.
“If you could package determination, it would come in the form of the students at Lake Norman Christian,” center Executive Director Sherry Reinhardt said. “They were determined to get the job done and to make sure that their presence would be known to their peers who will one day use the center.”
According to Reinhardt, Lincoln County law enforcement and the Department of Social Services refer children, who they suspect have been abused, to the center for an interview. Instead of undergoing several interviews with police, prosecutors and judges, the child is interviewed once by a counselor, while those involved with investigating and prosecuting the case watch from an out-of-sight location inside the building. Since the coalition opened the advocacy center’s current location – at 151 Sigmon Road in Lincolnton – in 2007, the organization has increased its child abuse conviction rate from 30 to 100 percent.
“As you can imagine, when a young child is interviewed 13 times over a span of time, their story can change,” Reinhardt said. “Before we brought the whole interviewing process under one roof, people would often get off on technicalities.”
In addition to interviews, the center houses a medical exam room and provides mental health services and support to children at the forefront of abuse cases.
However, the 35-year old singlewide trailer that has housed the center for about four years fell into disrepair. Lincoln County allowed the organization to lease a 4,000-square-foot, 35-year-old, county–owned, abandoned home in exchange for $1 per year for 25 years. Now community members – including the 80 Lake Norman Christian students – have joined together to turn the house into a comfortable safe haven for abused children.
“It hurts that kids my age or the age of the kids I see walk the halls of my school everyday get abused,” said 10th-grade student Josh Murray. “We want to show every kid that comes here that we love them, even if we have never met them.”
Tracie Johnson-Sawyers, an interior designer with PTI Design in Denver, has spearheaded the restoration effort, enlisting the help of the Tempkin Foundation, which provided the coalition with a $10,000 grant; Lowes Home Improvement in Mooresville, which gave the coalition $3,500 of in-store credit for light fixtures and provided more than 100 volunteers to help with labor for two weekends; landscaper Jen Enright of Spivey Construction Co. of Mooresville; and many other church and community volunteers.
Sawyers and her son, Ethan, a Lake Norman Christian student, saw the refurbishment efforts as the perfect service opportunity for the school. In addition to their labor, students raised $600 for the project, while school officials donated another $1,400.
Seventh-graders Madison Sherman, Morgan Hill, Sydney Capps and Jasmine Pack ended the day with white paint splattered over their t-shirts and blue jeans, after spending their hours painting outside housing fixtures.
“It’s been a great opportunity to get down-and-dirty for people who are much less fortunate than we are,” Madison said.
The Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse and Child Advocacy Center is still accepting monetary and service donations. Call the center at 704-736-1155 for more information.