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A tradition of justice and healing

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Over the past decade, Dan Leal has seen a lot change as executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Denton County.

While the Lewisville-based organization celebrated its 15th anniversary in August, the center continues to plan new initiatives to help child sexual abuse victims and extend the reach of its services.

“I have a lot of passion for fighting child sexual abuse,” said Leal, who worked for the City of Denton before joining CACDC in 2002. “I’ve seen it personally, in my life, even before I began working here.”

That fight, however, is made all the more difficult in the face of funding problems. CACDC recently embarked on a drive to sign up 150 new donors by December.

“We’re not there — right now we’ve got 50 people, so we’re quite a distance from our goal,” Leal said. “We definitely need to make a big push between now and December to get more people involved.”

Argyle Police Chief Tom Tackett said CACDC provides an invaluable service.

“As far as ‘wonderful’ goes in the nature of that crime, the center is just a wonderful thing,” said Tackett, who is a CACDC donor and recommends that other local residents consider donating.

“Having a safe and secure location for the child and the parent to come to — it’s not a police environment; it takes a little of that pressure off,” Tackett said. “The fact that they can be interviewed in an environment that isn’t threatening whatsoever is a really big benefit. And the fact that that interview happens one time, not multiple interviews, it’s certainly a great benefit.

“To go further with that, (CACDC) can then provide that counseling and start that healing process,” Tackett said.

Leal said that as CACDC has grown, community awareness has grown with it.

“We’re seeing a lot more awareness about the issue of child sexual abuse (today), and so that’s created a larger number of clients coming for services.”

That increased awareness means people are more likely to report child sexual abuse these days. CACDC has also played a role in increasing community awareness.

“Over the past few years we’ve added a community prevention piece where we’re out educating adults about the signs and symptoms of abuse,” Leal said. “We’re on the cusp of being more present in churches. We’ve already been in schools with the adult reporters of abuse. We’re reaching a lot of people, particularly in (southwestern Denton County).”

In June 2009, the center opened a new building in order to meet the growing need for its services.

“We’ve grown from having about one-and-a-half staff back when the agency started in 1997, and now we have about 15 people working for the agency, and that doesn’t even count all the interns or volunteers. We’ve grown a lot,” Leal said.

Because of the nature of its work, the center faces challenges daily and from many directions, Leal said.

“From a program standpoint, people often don’t understand the magnitude of the problem (of child sexual abuse) and how far-reaching it is,” he said. “You have some people who find out that abuse has occurred but don’t understand the devastation and the immense need for counseling. That’s really a challenge — to help people understand that they need counseling when something like this has happened to them; that it’s not something they can take care of themselves.

“We’ve got a strong counseling program; we’d just love to see more clients take advantage of it,” Leal said.

Another challenge can lead to the sort of fundraising headaches the center is currently facing.

“There’s also the misconception that this is a county agency. A lot of people think that donations are not needed, because they think we’re completely government funded,” Leal said. “We have some government funding, but as you can imagine, it’s either stable or decreasing, and at the same time need is going up. So that’s what makes donations so important. It’s more unstable when you have that kind of funding.

CACDC will host a two-flight (morning and afternoon) golf tournament in Lantana Sept. 13 to sign up new donors. Also included in the event will be a “helicopter drop,” where people can buy numbered golf balls which will be dropped from a helicopter, and the purchaser of the ball dropped closest to the pin will win a 60-inch flat-screen television.

“It’s a good way for people who don’t golf to get involved,” Leal said. For more information, visit www.cacdc.org.

Leal said CACDC wants to do more in the coming years. Future plans include hiring another counselor and increasing community education and awareness programs, including Spanish-language programs.

Within a few years, the center hopes to be able to open a second office, in Denton, to expand its reach.

Leal was asked to become the executive director by the center’s founding executive director, Jane Graham, who is now honored with an award named after her given yearly to outstanding CACDC volunteers.

“I was a natural fit because of all the collaboration we do,” Leal said. “We work daily with all these police departments, with Child Protective Services and with district attorneys every day.”

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