It's an organization you wish didn't have to exist, but are grateful that it does.
Since 1992, the Child Advocacy Center (CAC), located in a renovated Victorian home in downtown Memphis, has helped thousands of children begin the healing process after becoming victims of sexual abuse. As the Center's associate director Virginia Stallworth puts it, "This is where kids come to begin healing, where we help them become kids again."
The organization, with around 60 employees from various agencies, in-cluding the Memphis Police Department, Department of Children's Services, and prosecutors from the District Attorney's office, brings all necessary law enforcement officials, as well as mental healthcare providers, together under one roof in what Stallworth describes as a "child friendly" environment. "This way, a child is in the care of individuals trained in how to deal specifically with abused children, rather than, say, detectives who are used to dealing with adult victims and offenders," she explains. "It also prevents the child from having to tell his or her story over and over, which is painful enough the first time."
The agency investigated 1,839 reports of abuse last year alone, and nearly 750 children visited the center.
But it takes money to keep the nonprofit running, and so more than 100 local artists, designers, architects, and other creative folk have joined forces to raise much-needed funds for area nonprofits through the Works of Heart event.
This year marks the 15th anniversary for Works of Heart, which began as a fund-raiser for the Mental Health Association. When the agency shut its doors five years ago, the artists teamed up with CAC, with well-known local photographer and artist Murray Riss leading the charge.
Here's how it works: Each "heartist" receives a one-foot by one-foot flat wooden heart as the basis for their original works. Some use the structure given them, while others opt to work from their own materials, which has resulted in everything from marble works to sculpture, and even a working lamp. This year, participating artists include Dolph Smith, Carroll Todd, David Mah, John Robinette, and of course, Riss himself.
Most pieces, Stallworth explains, start at around $100, and the final sale price can range from two to four figures.Last year's event raised a combined total of $60, 343 for the CAC.
The Works of Heart Valentine Auction takes place Saturday, February 11th, at Memphis College of Art, with food from Fratelli's and wines from West Berkley Imports. Tickets, which are $35, can be reserved in advance by calling 888-4342, or purchased at the door. Those who want to get a sneak peek at the art for auction and even bid early may do so the week prior to the event at no charge. In fact, advises Stallworth, those who are serious about taking one of the pieces home might want to make that preview visit. "We had bids on 60 percent of the hearts before the doors even opened on event night last year," she notes. "It gets pretty competitive toward the end, which is great for us!" Stallworth laughs. "You know you've got a successful event when artists call you and volunteer to participate. Thanks to Works of Heart, we've been able to increase awareness about the CAC to a whole new group of supporters."