Originally published by San Antonio Express News
By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
For years, ChildSafe has provided services to victims of child abuse and neglect in Bexar County in a 13,000-square-foot facility on the far Southwest Side, a long way from the central city.
As years passed and the number of young victims grew, the nonprofit became cramped, with some counselors and child welfare workers even having to decamp to different locations.
Within two years, this problem will be resolved, thanks to a major gift by one of the city’s most prolific benefactors.
On Thursday, Harvey Najim announced he was giving $5 million to a capital campaign to build a $33 million, 70,000-square-foot ChildSafe campus on the East Side.
Scheduled to break ground in May and open officially in fall 2018, the new child advocacy center will bring crucial treatment closer to the families who need it, said ChildSafe President and CEO Kim Abernethy, and will be a national model nestled in a wooded, natural area that will promote “nurturing and healing.”
To be designed and built by the architect and engineering firm Overland Partners, the Harvey E. Najim Children and Family Center will be located on 36 acres along Salado Creek, near Interstate 10 and East Houston Street.
The donation represents the largest single gift Najim has made in his long history of philanthropy in San Antonio, which tends to focus on children.
Announcing the gift at the Overland Partners’ near-downtown office, Najim told a story about his first visit to ChildSafe seven years ago. He was walking down a hall where specialists conduct interviews to determine if abuse has occurred.
“Suddenly, one of the doors opened and a mother and daughter walked out,” Najim said. “They were both crying. The little girl was about the age of my granddaughter at the time. I was so saddened by what I saw. It left an indelible image in my mind.”
When Abernethy and board members approached Najim about a year ago, saying ChildSafe desperately needed to expand to serve more children and families, he was eager to help, in January providing the $250,000 deposit on the property where the new center will be built.
Najim said he’s confident the new center offer a “network for support and a catalyst for healing.”
“I make this gift to ensure that our most valuable asset — our children — are protected and safe,” he said. “My hope is that their fears will turn to cheers and their fear to hope.”
Abernethy said Najim’s gift will be key in getting others to donate.
“The gift demonstrates Harvey’s deep and unwavering commitment to the children of the community,” she said. “We are extremely grateful for his involvement in the development of this campus, and his ongoing pledge to help the most vulnerable.”
Ray Battaglia, the board chairman of ChildSafe, said having the center more centrally located will help especially low-income families that depend on public transportation.
“Can you imagine having a traumatized, abused child, and then not having a car to be able to seek help?” he asked. “Can you imagine having to take several buses just to get to the counselor? That’s really been hard on our clients, especially working parents. This new center is going to make access much easier.”
ChildSafe serves more than 3,000 clients a year. This fiscal year, the need for counseling services increased by 33 percent — a reflection of the county’s high child abuse and neglect numbers, which often rank among the worst in the state, Abernethy said.
In addition to providing counseling and other services, ChildSafe serves as an on-site hub for other partners in the fight against abuse and neglect — Child Protective Services, the district attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Office, the police and juvenile probation. The new facility also will have a 250-seat training center.
A video of the state-of-the-art campus was shown to attendees of the announcement party.
When the new facility opens, the existing one along U.S. 90 will close, Abernethy said.
The rest of the money for the center will come from private donors, foundations and other sources, as well as tax credits, said Randy McGibney, director of programs.
The new center also plans to partner with the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio to provide an on-site wellness clinic for the community. An additional 21 acres of wooded land adjoining the campus will be deeded to the city for a public park, Abernethy said.
Councilman Alan Warrick, in whose district the new center will be situated, said having ChildSafe in the area will be a boon for the entire community. The lot on which the center is to be built has been vacant for 25 years, he said.
“We hope that one day the need for such a center will become obsolete, but until then, we are thrilled to have this world class facility on the East Side,” he said.
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