While demand for the services of a local center that combats child sexual abuse increased right along with COVID-19, the prospects for the big fundraiser the nonprofit Hope House depends on for half its budget appeared diminished.
At that point, supporters of the Children’s Advocacy Center-Hope House in Covington got creative.
The group has decided to pivot in order to bring the popular culinary competition (and Hope House fundraiser) “Men Who Cook” to a larger audience than what St. Tammany Parish residents are used to seeing, said Thomas Mitchell, the executive director of Hope House.
Instead of a traditional one-night event, celebrity chefs on the Men Who Cook 2020 Team will partner with more than 10 local restaurants between Oct. 5 and Nov. 8 to present “Hope House Weeks.”
Donations can be made on-site or online through Nov. 8 at support.cachopehouse.org/MWC2020.
The restaurants will offer special deals for patrons who donate to help their celebrity chef compete for the Most Money Raised for Hope House award. And a panel of judges will sample a highlighted dish from each restaurant to determine the winner of the Judges’ Choice award.
It will be a win-win because it has been so been difficult for both nonprofits and restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic, Mitchell said. And he hopes the public will patronize the restaurants and the teams to help create more public awareness of Hope House.
“While there is a pandemic, there is also an epidemic of child sexual abuse,” Mitchell said. “We’re seeing greater numbers because kids are stuck at home or because parents have to rely on child care they otherwise would not have relied on before the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Children’s Advocacy Center-Hope House is the only agency in St. Tammany and Washington parishes that provides mandated forensic interviews for children when there are allegations of abuse.
The center does not investigate allegations on its own; there must be a law enforcement investigation, Mitchell said.
“There were 336 kids who came into the CAC in 2019 to disclose sexual abuse because of a pending investigation,” Mitchell said. “When the forensic recordings were used, 96.1% of those cases charged, resulted in convictions.”
From January through June, the CAC has already served 189 youth, which puts the group on track to surpass its 2019 sex abuse numbers.
Hope House provides a child-centered environment that houses a staff of eight and a multidisciplinary team with representatives from 12 other agencies who are part of the investigations.
Mitchell moved here from Tennessee to become the executive director three years ago and has since implemented a program of recovery for the young clients. Hope House can provide up to 12 or 16 months of free “trauma-focused counseling,” an evidence-based treatment program for PTSD and recovery from sexual abuse.
“We’re privileged to work with kids and see their recovery,” he said.
Mitchell also initiated a free education program to prevent child sexual abuse. The age-appropriate classes for youth in prekindergarten through high school is called Play it Safe! It was offered to more than 900 youth last year.
The Stewards of Children program continues to offer abuse prevention training to adults. Last year, it trained 280 people.
Mitchell said the annual Men Who Cook outdoor gala in 2019 raised almost half of the nonprofit’s annual $600,000 budget.
Marie Rudd-Gregory, of Mandeville, is with the Brooke It Forward Foundation, a sponsor of Men Who Cook, along with Cintas. The foundation provides Birthday Parties in a Box for the children served by Hope House. It began in the name of her daughter, Mandeville High senior Brooke Posey, an accomplished equestrian, who died in a tragic accident in 2017 while on the way to a horse show.
“She loved children,” Rudd-Gregory said. “This is a charity that speaks directly to the heart of children, and we can’t think of a better way to honor her.”
“Each judicial district has to have a center when a child divulges sexual abuse,“ she said. That’s the mandate. “The beauty of forensics is that it minimizes the impact once the child has disclosed. It’s set up to minimize repeated trauma.”
“Men Who Cook was starting to come into its own as a premier event of the charity season,” she said. But the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” may apply to the fundraiser.
“This could be an added format,” to the gala presentation in the future, she said. “We know this is a difficult time for all nonprofits, especially where you have to reach out to fundraise.”
The In Jesus Name Foundation has pledged a match for the first $50,000 raised by Men Who Cooks. It will also give away an antique car to raise money for the nonprofit through the end of the year.
Mitchell said the community has supported Men Who Cook in the past because “people understand that this is a really significant problem in our community.”
“We’re hoping for another big year,” he said.
For information, visit www.cachopehouse.org or call (985) 892-3885. To report abuse, call the 24-hour Louisiana Child Abuse Hotline at (855) 452-5437. To report online child sexual exploitation, call the CyberTipline at (800) 843-5678.
MEN WHO COOK CHALLENGE
WHAT: Men Who Cook has paired 10 local “celebrities” with 10 local restaurants for a fundraiser to benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center- Hope House, which works to help end child sexual abuse in St. Tammany.
WHEN: Oct. 5 – Nov. 8
HOW: Visit the restaurants during their designated Hope House Weeks, then make a contribution to get a free wine or cocktail, maybe a desert on the house, a lower tab or perhaps a buy one, get one free item. Each restaurant offers its own incentive.
WHAT ELSE: Patrons make contributions to Hope House while dining in to get the incentives, but online donations are also accepted. Both count toward the grand total, as well as help determine which celeb/restaurant team wins the coveted “Most Money Raised for Hope House Award.”
MORE: Each restaurant participates for a designated period.
- Oct. 5-10: Colin Shea and Lola, 517 N. New Hampshire St. in Covington.
- Oct 6-11: Gerald Sticker and The Lakehouse, 2025 Lakeshore Drive in Mandeville.
- Oct. 12-17: Rick Smith and Beck-N-Call Cafe, 534 N. New Hampshire St. in Covington.
- Oct. 13-18: Warren Montgomery and The Shack, 1204 W. 21st St. in Covington.
- Oct. 19-25: Mayor Clay Madden and the Rusty Pelican, 500 Girod St. in Mandeville.
- Oct. 19-25: Neal Clark and Walk-On’s, 69796 Stirling Boulevard in Covington.
- Oct. 27-31: Randy Smith and Dicristina’s, 810 N. Columbia St. in Covington.
- Oct. 27-Nov. 1: Nick LaRocca and Hambone, 544 Girod St. in Mandeville.
- Nov. 2-8: Frank Richerand and Giddy Up, 82292 La. 25 in Folsom.
- Nov. 3-7: Shane Mutter and Pyre Provisions, 70437 La. 21 in Covington.
- Oct. 12-18: Mike Rase and Ben Vliet at the Blind Tiger, 19124 W. Front St. in Covington.
INFO: For special offers and to donate through Nov. 8, visit support.cachopehouse.org/MWC2020.