Restoring hope to abused Troup County youth
LaGRANGE — The Children’s Advocacy Center of Troup County tries to shed a little bit of light during a usually dark time in a child’s life. The organization, which is a part of Twin Cedars, helps children who may have been sexually abused. It is housed inside the Coleman Center at the corner of Dallis and Lincoln streets and Forrest Avenue. A portion of the inside is set up like a playroom for children to draw, paint and play. The other half is where forensic interviews take place with children and if need be, a physical exam with a trained nurse. The outdoor area has a garden and a playground that is used to entertain neighborhood children along with the kids who are visiting the center, said John Harrell, assistant coordinator at the Children’s Advocacy Center. It also provides a form of therapy for them. “It helps them to focus on something else,” Harrell said. “Going from the destructive aspects of abuse to seeing something grow is positive.” Unfortunately, vandals keep destroying the only place of serenity and fun some of these children may encounter on a daily basis. According to Harrell, the vandals’ main target seems to be the playground and gazebo. “They slashed the tarp on top of the fort, kicked out the rails that exposed the rusty nails, broke the swing, bashed in the vents in the gazebo (and) spray-painted graffiti on the columns of the gazebos,” he said. Vandals also stole the table from under the gazebo, ripped up plants and flowers in the garden, kicked in pumpkins and smashed one of the outdoor cameras, among other damage, Harrell noted. The vandalism has been ongoing. The garden has been at the center for several years, but officials didn’t keep it up this year as much as they had previously, Harrell said. Throughout the fall and winter the area became overgrown with weeds, but he was determined to restore the garden better than ever this spring. “We planted more flowers this year than in the past because they were such a hit,” he explained. “We planted vegetables that grow easily – tomatoes and peppers. This year we’re trying gourds, like pumpkins … no clue at how they’ll do. We have peas and sweet potatoes …. two types of flowers.” Harrell said the garden also provides a peaceful atmosphere that helps children forget where they are and why they are there, at least for a little while. “It has a positive, therapeutic effect on a child that is here for an interview for quite possibly something that was emotionally damaging,” explained Harrell. “I would point to the ground and tell a child, a boy, to dig up a sweet potato. He wouldn’t know what he was digging for, then he’d rip up this potato from the ground. We’d print out instructions on what it was, how to cook it … and eat it.” Harrell said despite the vandalism, there have also been some blessings in the gardening project. A local landscaping service tilled all the soil for free. Children with camp Learn 2 Serve helped weed, plant and put down landscape cloth in June. The LaGrange Farm Supply Store gave Harrell all the plants, vegetables and flowers for free. Stephanie Varner responded to a Twin Cedars Facebook post and donated 15 bags of mulch, which covered one fourth of the garden. A Boy Scout heard about the garden and is looking to take on the entire project – both finishing the garden and fixing the playground – to earn his Eagle Scout badge. Harrell said they need more mulch to finish up the garden. He’s hoping other folks will show support for the potential Eagle Scout’s project as well. “We want this to be the polar opposite setting of where kids used to be interviewed, which was at a sheriff’s office or a police department in an interrogation room … no teddy bears there,” said Harrell. “Now, if there’s a child abuse case in Troup County, (law enforcement officers) don’t hesitate … they call us and bring the children right over here.” Anyone interested in helping to spruce up the garden or playground at the Coleman Center can contact John Harrell at 706-298-0050, ext. 1066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.