In the middle of Anchorage, a new home for a child advocacy center is taking shape, a place to help children at their most vulnerable as adults investigate reported abuse.

And the public’s help is needed.

Alaska CARES is moving from leased space on the campus of the Alaska Native Medical Center. Providence Health & Services Alaska is leading the effort for a new $12.85 million building that already has drawn significant support from Rasmuson Foundation and Southcentral Foundation, the Alaska Native-run health organization.

The center, which has been in operation about 20 years, provides a space for police, troopers, the Office of Children’s Services and nurse practitioners to coordinate child abuse investigations, exams and interviews, so that children don’t have to keep telling and retelling the story of what might be the worst thing they ever experienced. Advocates guide children through the process. Clinicians offer counseling.

So far, more than $11 million is in hand, Scott Habberstad, chair of Providence Alaska Foundation and regional sales director for Alaska Airlines, said Thursday at a kickoff event to raise the rest.

Cathy Ramuson holds some of the butterfly stakes set into the ground to represent the nearly 1,000 children seen last year at Alaska CARES.

Inside the structural skeleton of the new center, Providence hospital and its philanthropic foundation announced a public campaign, tagged #AKCARES on social media, to raise the remaining amount of just under $2 million. Providence owns the land, tucked away on 48th Avenue, and will own the new building.

Last year, almost 1,000 children were examined and interviewed at Alaska CARES, said Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, a family physician who serves as the center’s medical director.

“It may be 1,100 or 1,200 this year,” she said. Financial stresses on families and increasing violence, with a record number of homicides in Anchorage last year, may be contributing, she said. Some children are brought to the center to tell about crimes they’ve witnessed.

The new building is being designed for its purpose. Anchorage police will be on site with a special victims unit and crimes against children unit. Troopers and child protection workers will be there too. Mental health counselors will work in a separate part of the center, so that children in need of counseling won’t have to revisit the trauma area. Families will have more privacy. Southcentral Foundation, which provides advocates on site, will have space to work.

The center exemplifies collaboration in action, said April Kyle, vice president of behavioral services for Southcentral Foundation. The organization has been a partner in Alaska CARES for about 10 years, providing staffing and funding, and connecting families to other needed services, she said.

 

Cathy Rasmuson, vice chair of the Rasmuson Foundation Board, told the crowd who gathered for the campaign kickoff about her service years ago on a grand jury. For a case of child sexual assault, boxes of Kleenex were set out for jurors’ tears of rage and pain.

When the Foundation Board considered a large grant this year for Alaska CARES, “I raised up both of my hands and said ‘yes,’” Rasmuson said to applause.

The construction money in hand includes $6.85 million from Providence Alaska, $1.5 million from Southcentral Foundation and $1 million from Rasmuson Foundation. William Randolph Hearst Foundation has put in $100,000 and ConocoPhillips, $500,000, counting additional money awarded in July. Southcentral also committed operating dollars.

Natasha von Imhof and Adam Gibbons, both Rasmuson Foundation board members, plant butterfly stakes on Thursday.

Before Alaska CARES, children would go to hospital emergency rooms for evaluations. There was little privacy, few nurses and doctors with special training in sexual assault trauma, and repeated questions, Rasmuson said. Later on, she said, a police detective might come to the home and pepper the child with questions anew. Not everything was recorded. Details were lost. And children were seen as victims, a description that doesn’t reflect their strength.

Now there’s Alaska CARES. “And that word ‘care’ is embodied in everything they do,” Rasmuson said.

She knows a child who was seen at Alaska CARES, who was questioned effectively but gently, whose family could turn to advocates there for help.

“She sees herself as a survivor,” Rasmuson said.

Retired Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz blessed the new center and sprinkled holy water around it on Thursday.

The Sisters of Providence founded a hospital in Nome back in 1902 and went on to provide care around Alaska.

“This is the work. This continues to be the work,” Monica Anderson, Providence’s chief mission integration officer, said at the campaign kickoff. “It is a perfect expression of who we are as an organization, what the sisters hoped for when they came to Alaska. This population of people are the ones we absolutely must continue to serve.”