THE COFFEE County Children’s Advocacy Center (CCCAC) recently unveiled a new recognition for those who work tirelessly advocating for children in Coffee County.
According to the CCCAC director, Joyce Prusak, the award was created for the late Melissa Johnson.
“The award was created to honor the memory of Melissa Johnson,” she explained. “Her husband, Ward Johnson, wanted to find a way to honor her memory and her love of children. So we worked with him to create this award.”
Receiving the inaugural Melissa Johnson Children’s Champion Award is one of the CCCAC’s founding members, Bonnie Watts.
In 2004, Watts, and a group of local activists with the Coffee County Church Women United, founded the center that officially opened in 2005. For almost 20 years, the center has served children who have experienced severe abuse.
Prusak said this recognition for Watts was long overdue.
“Through the founding of the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center, Bonnie has had a tremendous impact on the children and families that have been helped through the CAC,” she said. “Over 4,400 children have received some kind of service from the center due to severe child abuse allegations. The more support we can give children and families to begin the healing process, the stronger our community will be as a whole. Bonnie is an unsung hero. It was time to give her the recognition and credit she deserves.”
Prusak added that the award will help to recognize those with the CCCAC who work to make an impact through the organization.
“The board of directors of the CCCAC will be deciding who receives this award based on the impact of the work someone has done for children in our community,” she explained. “This is a new award and there was no doubt who we wanted to award it to this first time based on the work that was done to found the center and the lasting legacy of that work. Although over 4,400 children have been helped so far, that number will just continue to grow.”
A humbled Watts said she is grateful for the award and proud to be a part of an organization that works to advocate for children.
“I am so humbled being acknowledged to receive the first Melissa Johnson Children’s Champion Award, and it is such an honor,” she said. “But I have to say it was not only myself who worked hard to get the center on its feet. So many people were involved, and a lot of those same folks are still working hard for the children of our community. I feel privileged to have been a part of the process.”
According to Prusak, the CCCAC offers services that include forensic interviews, family advocacy, mental health services, medical exams, and prevention training. In addition to the intervention services that the CCCAC provides to children and families in the community who experience severe abuse, the CCCAC also provides an evidence-based prevention program for adults, called Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children, thanks to a grant received by the center.
The program trains adults to recognize signs and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. It also aims to eliminate child abuse through prevention. The program is evidence-informed, adult-focused, and it is proven to increase knowledge and change behavior. GN