In December 2017 a small group of people met with the Mecosta County Prosecutor. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss forming a child advocacy center in Mecosta County. The following year the group put together a development team of people who would have expertise in both the needs of the county and in developing programs. The organization was named Open Arms Child Advocacy Center (OACAC). In April 2018 OACAC received 501c3 status from the IRS.
After assessing what counties in the lower peninsula were without a CAC, we decided to expand our service area to our neighboring counties of Osceola, Lake, and Newaygo Counties. We hired a part-time executive director in March 2019 and the Big Rapids Housing Commission donated a community center room for our operations. We spent a great deal of time in all the communities, assessing needs, fund raising, and educating the communities about the importance of a child advocacy center for best practices in responding to severe and sexual child abuse.
In October 2019, we recruited a Forensic Interviewer and after she was trained, we began conducting forensic interviews and doing family advocacy. Initially, our Executive Director was doing the family advocacy after completing that training, and we eventually were able to utilize interns from Ferris State University’s Social Work Program to assist with this function. After securing grant funding, we have been able to hire an Intake Coordinator/Family Advocate, a full time Forensic Interviewer, a full time Program Director. The Executive Director position is now also full time.
While it was advantageous to be operating in Big Rapids with donated space, we quickly realized the space was not adequate for our growing needs and began to look for alternative space. In summer 2021 a space became available for sale in White Cloud and the Newaygo County Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, one of our service partners, had the means to purchase the building and invited us to join them in renovating and occupying this space. We launched a joint capital campaign in October 2021 and quickly were able to reach our campaign goal in four months. The new building is named The Center for Hope and Healing and is a collaboration between the two agencies who have similar missions and target populations. We moved into our new space in Spring of 2022.
Open Arms CAC is always actively looking to expand our programing to best serve the families in the surrounding communities. Currently we are seeking funding to bring on a trauma therapist and hope to have this in place in the near future. We also received ‘Developing CAC’ status through the National Children’s Association (NCA) and will be looking to apply for full accreditation in early 2023. As an agency we are also actively involved with the state chapter, CACMI, and look forward to beginning and nurturing partnership with community foundations and organizations for many years to come.