PANAMA CITY — Emotions ran high as the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center unveiled its rebuilt therapy building Friday that was destroyed by Hurricane Michael.
The days of doing therapy in cars or the back of pickup trucks in the parking lot are gone. The children who have survived abuse can finally have a dedicated therapy building again.
The Lauren’s Kids Foundation and the AshBritt Foundation helped put the building together, but they had assistance from local officials when it came to funding. Florida State Sen. Lauren Book, a longtime friend of the Gulf Coast CAC, is a sexual abuse survivor herself and wanted to help bring the therapy building back.
The Lauren’s Kids Foundation was started by Book in 2007 to educate adults and children about sexual abuse prevention. The foundation’s Safer, Smarter Schools K-12 curriculum program is currently used in classrooms in 37 states to teach children about personal safety.
The Lauren’s Kids Foundation also organizes an annual statewide “Walk in My Shoes” awareness walk across Florida.
Book said she didn’t expect the amount of work that would go into the new building
“We thought we were just going to throw up some paint, but it was ripping out all of the walls,” Book said. “However with the painting and the tiling, it has been incredible.”
Book empathizes with the children who are survivors of abuse because she was sexually abused by her family’s nanny from when she was 10 until 16 years old. She said there wasn’t a model of a survivor and she is happy to see the conversation being talked about more now.
Book’s father, Ron Book, gave a long and spirited speech about the work that has gone into the new building. He described his daughter Lauren as being his hero for being a survivor of sexual abuse.
Book’s example has encouraged children in Bay County to come forward about their experiences of abuse. One of them is Kylie Kendson.
“I just started coming here about two months ago and they’ve (Gulf Coast CAC) really helped me here,” Kendson said. “This place is not only comforting for survivors of sexual abuse, it has helped me make friends.”
Kendson came to the CAC because she was sexually abused since she was a child by someone within her own family. She said the most recent incident was from her best friend’s father, and that’s what got her to the CAC to seek therapy.
The CAC has helped Kendson, she said, because she felt like people would judge her and say that it was her fault. Instead, the CAC has empowered her.
The CAC serves more than 7,000 survivors of child abuse annually at no cost.
The finalized renovations of the therapy building will be featured in Lauren’s Kids’ new television awareness program, “The Journey Home.”
The television program is set to air in media markets across Florida in April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.