A Place Where Children are Safe

LACONIA — Partially funded by a grant from the NH Department of Justice, it was only fitting that the person who heads that agency — Attorney General Michael Delaney — should be the person to welcome the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center to its new home at 65 Water St.

Founded in 2005 and until November 2011 located in the Community Action Program building on Route 106 in Laconia, the advocacy center on Thursday held an open house to show off its new digs to the community.

Among the two dozen people who braved the first real snowstorm of the 2011- 2012 winter season was Delaney who came up from Concord for the occasion and said he was glad and proud to do so, even if he did not quite make the 6 p.m. start time.

Painted in bright, happy colors and brimming with toys, the center is “warm,” said Delaney, and “it is friendly, it is welcoming,” which is especially important given what he called the difficult work that often is done there.

According to the advocacy center’s mission statement, that is to “effectively intervene on multiple levels to help end sexual and physical violence against children in our community.”

In 2011, the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center assisted 200 children, 90 percent of whom had been sexually abused, said Executive Director Meghan Noyes. Nearly 50 percent of them were from Laconia.

Statewide, advocacy cneters help 2,000 children, said Delaney, who slowly repeated the number for dramatic effect.

“We need places like this to treat the kids the way they need to be treated,” Delaney said, adding that the new Greater Lakes head- quarters represents “a fresh start” for abused children in Laconia and surrounding communities.

Angel Costello, who said she was physically, sexually and emotionally abused by her stepfather from the time she was six until she was 16, praised the advocacy center as being everything that her experience had not been when, more than 20 years ago, she came forward to authorities.

“It’s not scary,” said Costello, who has recounted the horrors of her childhood in a semi-fictional autobiography entitled, “I died a little bit every night.”

There are several copies of that book on the library shelves at the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center and Costello, who is working on a second book, intends to add more.

Looking around the advocacy center, which was filled with a variety of people of different ages Thursday night, Costello said she liked coming there “because this is so different from what I experienced.”

There was a hopeful, almost palpably joyous spirit on Thursday, she said.

Noyes said the plan is to make the advocacy center a place that is welcoming, comforting and comfortable to young abuse victims and their families.

Although the center was bumped out of its former CAP space due to the space needs of its host, the new location, which is owned by the Laconia Historic and Museum Society and most recently was the home of the Laconia Daily Sun newspaper, is proving ideal because of its easy-toreach downtown address.

Additionally, the advocacy office is literally right next door to the office of the NH Department of Children, Youth and Families, with whom it shares about 80 percent of the cases.

“The community owns this,” Noyes said of the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center, “and it has a new home and we want people to see it.”

Click here to see this article in The Citizen of Laconia