April 6, 2017 – Portsmouth, NH — Six exemplary individuals were recognized at the sixth annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony at the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel Thursday morning.
The Child Advocacy Center of Rockingham County presented the awards in recognition of April being Child Abuse Prevention Month
Last year, there were 2,400 cases of child abuse investigated in the state. Three hundred of them were investigated by a staff of just three at the CAC of Rockingham County, with 200 more cases screened.
This year’s recipients were Rick Wallis, president of Piscataqua Savings Bank; Kim Pelchat, a child protective service worker for the N.H. Department Health and Human Services’ Division of Children, Youth and Families; Paul Curtis, a victim advocate with Haven; Stephanie Johnson, an attorney with Rockingham County Attorney’s Office; and Chief Kyle True and Lt. Rick Beaudet of the Newmarket Police Department.
Maureen Sullivan, executive director of CAC, which has offices in Portsmouth and Derry, introduced the guest speaker, Lt. Joseph Ebert, director of the N.H. Department of Safety’s Fusion Center.
Ebert talked about his getting a 2 a.m. call as a young state trooper to investigate a homicide case for a 2-year-old child.
“It caught me off guard,” he recalled. “The witness was a 5-year-old and the suspect was the mother. I was preoccupied driving to the hospital about how I was going to get a statement from a 5-year-old.”
Ebert said someone met him at the hospital from the CAC.
“This was a new concept to me,” he said. “I had always worked as an individual in investigations, but now I was part of a team. The forensic interviewer was able to get a statement useable in court.”
Saying survivors deserve anonymity, Ebert talked about a high-profile kidnapping case of a 14-year-old.
“She was emotionally and sexually abused daily and shown videos on police interrogation,” Ebert said. “She was indoctrinated to think law enforcement is bad.”
With the help of a CAC forensic interviewer alone in the room with the victim, Ebert and his team were able to get a pure version of a statement on a video feed that gave them the power and leverage to get a conviction and a plea.
Ebert said this insured the survivor did not have to get up on the stand.
He ended with a message of hope.
“There are some days in my job when it’s really horrible … days that will never leave my memory,” Ebert said. “I look at it and say, those are the bad days for me, but those are every day for the folks at the CAC. And that really gives me a healthy respect for what they do.”
He said he sees some of the survivors and stays in touch with their families because for him, personally, he needs to know they made it through and that they’re thriving, because “otherwise, it is just doom and gloom.”
“So the silver lining in this is what the CAC provides to these children. It provides them with a chance to survive and thrive,” Ebert concluded.
This year’s award recipients were treated to two things. One was a slideshow comparing each to a movie screen champion. The other was that Nico Zaino, 12, one of last year’s award recipients helped to present the awards.
Nico of Hampton, with the help of his football teammates, started the “Little Warriors for a Big Difference.” They collect money and items like stuffed animals and snacks for the CAC forensic investigators to give to children during interviews, as well as purchase small office supplies like batteries or pens.
Sullivan said Wallis was “fiercely committed to a partnership between the public and private sector,” as president of Piscataqua Savings Bank.
“While there are many individual and corporate donors who are responsible for the CACs success, none have been as supportive as Rick Wallis,” she said. “He has been described by his staff as mentor, by his clients as respectful and by leadership as a man of integrity, but my favorite description is ‘arm candy’ by his wife Karene.”
Wallis’s movie match? “Braveheart,” as a photo of Mel Gibson appeared on the screen.
CAC program coordinator and forensic interviewer Jillian Burns presented the award to Pelchat, whose movie double was Kristen Bell.
“She, usually being the first responder to the types of cases that eventually make their way to the CAC, does the grunt work,” Burns said. “Kim and I are no strangers to reaching each other on our cellphones, even after hours, to triage cases … child protection can be a thankless job, but today I’m here, we’re here to say thank you.”
Curtis, a victim advocate for Haven, was praised by Sullivan for his calm, caring and lighthearted demeanor.
“I’ve peeked into the waiting room many times only to see you bonding with a child over a game or story,” she said. “At Christmastime, there was one boy who looked up at you and truly believed he had an exclusive audience with Santa Claus.”
It was only fitting that Curtis’s doppelganger was Kris Kringle.
Burns introduced attorney Stephanie Johnson comparing her to the heroes from “Star Wars,” who have won over Johnson’s sons’ hearts.
“Being a Jedi requires patience, trusting your instincts, devotion to a mission, acknowledging the dark side but refusing to dwell on it, and most importantly, protecting and defending the helpless. You, my friend, are a Jedi,” Burns said, as a photo of Princess Leia popped up on the screen.
Sullivan presented True and Beaudet, as “Turner & Hooch” appeared on the screen.
“For Chief Kyle True and Lt. Rick Beaudet, the constant shifting dynamic between the two proves countless laughs and surprisingly sweet moments,” Sullivan said.
She talked about the case of a Newmarket father who broke multiple bones in his infant son’s body.
“As family men and as investigators, no doubt this case had an effect on them,” Sullivan said. “For a police officer, there is no other crime more reprehensible than those committed against a child.”
True acknowledged Nico as he accepted his award.
“You’re going places my friend,” he said. “What is really humbling are the forensic interviews that Jillian and Megan (Donahue) do. You are the true champions.”
Donahue is CAC’s intake coordinator and a forensic interviewer. Rounding out the staff is Loree Sullivan, an interim interviewer, filling in for Burns, who is on maternity leave, but came to the awards ceremony.
Read the original article from the Seacoast Online on April 6, 2017.