By Tricia Moore | Photos by Amber Karnish
Behind Every Handprint There’s a Story
Entering the parking lot of the J.B. & Johnelle Hunt Family Children’s Safety Center of Washington County, one is immediately struck by a beautiful building, its design unintrusive to the landscape. Newly constructed and conveniently situated for easy community access just off Interstate 49, the nonprofit celebrated a December 2023 grand opening event for its new facility.
Originally located off Emma Street in Springdale, the center’s leadership knew prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that with the area’s growth, they would soon require a newer, larger building. Plans began in 2019 with a capital campaign that raised $1.3 million. When COVID-19 struck, this nonprofit could not close its doors; the needs of the area’s abused children continued despite the pandemic, as did the drive to construct this new building.
“We have empowered our kids with this brand-new space,” said Emily Rappe’ Fisher, the CSC’s director of development. “This building is just for them, and they deserve it.”
J.B. & Johnelle Hunt Family Children's Safety Center of Washington County
The building sits on donated land from Hubert and Mattie Wilhite. Walking inside, guests pass under a powerful message: “Behind every handprint there’s a story.” The stories are important to the mission of the CSC. An important way to protect children is to ensure they don’t feel it is wrong to share their stories. Every child who comes through the CSC will leave a handprint in colorful paint on canvases in the new Handprint Studio as a symbol of the mission and hope for the child’s future.
Children's Safety Center of Washington County staff and partners at the grand opening event for its new building Dec. 12, 2023
The CSC uses the Children’s Advocacy Center model, providing a central coordination center to support abused children while meeting the unique needs of the local community. It also provides a safe space where the abused child does not have to tell their story over and over again to be heard. Teams of community professionals work together in established programs to help the center’s children reclaim their future. Services like advocacy, forensic interviews, medical evaluation and treatments for trauma are all provided to the children free of charge.
Yet, it is more than the excitement of this new building that keeps this nonprofit viable. To provide the expanded services to the area’s abused children, the CSC is constantly in need of funding and donations.
In addition to financial assistance from its community partners, the CSC relies on in-kind donations from area residents. There are many ways to help. On the website is a wish list of needs that can be purchased for the center. Additionally, there are numerous volunteer opportunities and events to attend throughout the year. People are also encouraged to sign up to receive the center’s newsletter and check out its social media to easily keep up with the latest news, events and needs.
The previous handprints of children served through the CSC were not left behind at the former location. “They were always coming with us,” the CSC’s Executive Director Elizabeth Shackelford said. During the recent grand opening event, CSC staff ended the evening by lighting a mural of digitalized original handprints from the old building. Spanning the front of the new facility, these handprints now make the Children’s Safety Center of Washington County visible in the dark night — a beacon of hope for all who now enter its doors while honoring those who did so in the past.