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