Centre County children’s advocacy center makes debut

All the new Centre County children’s advocacy center needs is toys, maybe some puzzles and books.

The center whose purpose is to provide a friendly, comforting setting for child crime victims has quickly gone from concept to completion, and the finished product was unveiled Monday to the organizers and supporters who made it a reality after Jerry Sandusky’s crimes against children sent shockwaves through the community.

“This community has accomplished more in two years than any other in the country,” said Judge Bradley P. Lunsford, one of the organizers, inside the newly renovated office space. “We did this because Penn State is strong and the State College community is strong.”

The center is under the umbrella of Mount Nittany Health and is housed in an office building on Medical Park Lane on the outskirts of Bellefonte. It’s been praised as a way to better protect children, as the center will provide a place for a specialist to interview a child instead of a child having to go through multiple interviews — with a caseworker, police officer, a prosecutor and a doctor — in multiple places.

The center has rooms for the specialist to interview children, for law enforcement and other officials to watch, a waiting area for families and meeting space.

The mood on Monday was celebratory, as the organizers showed off the completed center as though they had just gotten the keys to their dream home.

“I simply can’t put into words how proud we are to bring this children’s advocacy center into the community,” said Steve Brown, CEO of Mount Nittany Health.

The center will be led by Kristina Taylor-Porter, who came here from the same position at the children’s advocacy center in Indiana County. Taylor-Porter praised local leaders for the community support to make the center come alive, which she said is essential to making it work once children start using the center.

Taylor-Porter will begin working to get the office up and running with the hope of having it open to children after the new year, she said. Monday’s meet-and-greet was the first and only public showing, as the center will be locked down.

The center will provide a service that is lacking in central Pennsylvania. Once this opens, local children no longer will have to travel to the next closest centers, at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville and the Children’s Resource Center in Harrisburg.

Taylor-Porter said she will reach out to law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties so that children from outside Centre County can use it.

Mount Nittany Physician Group pediatricians Craig Collison, Kristie Kaufman and Rachel Schwab will perform medical exams at the center. They will have all the equipment at the center that they would have at the hospital, they said.

Anne K. Ard, the director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, said children’s advocacy centers work with rape crisis centers in their communities, and that’s a role she hopes her center will have. Ard said her center has staff members who have gone to the hospital or to the police station to assist crime victims, and the children’s advocacy center will be an extension of the help that’s already existed.

“It’s another opportunity for us to work collaboratively,” Ard said. “As somebody who does this kind of work, I’m thrilled.”