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Julie Hurst wanted it built in 7 days. An ambitious plea, but 500 odd days later the Pierce family Children’s Advocacy Center opened April 8th. The center provides a safe environment for abused and neglected children to tell their story just once, to trained staff, so law enforcement can take the next steps to prevent further instances. Local Walton County officials and donors were on hand to celebrate the opening of the center. “It has been a long but satisfying road to today, said Julie Hurst, ECCAC director. “But the real work now begins, to care for the kids that sadly need this service.”

Art Miller, Director of the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center wrote a special poem dedicated to the children that will enter the facility. Jim and Tammy Pierce, major donors, and to whom the center is named after, gave heartfelt thanks to all involved. “There are  no sunny days for an abused child, said Jim, but this is a place of hope and safety.” For more information about the center and the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Centers visit www.eccac.org

Image18 Julie Hurst – Transcript

Good morning. It is a humbling day for all of us here. It has been a little over seven days since we started construction at the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Centre. Well, maybe just a little bit more than seven, it’s actually 529 days to be exact. Many of you know my story. One where I sold people on this idea is that it was my goal to build this centre in seven days because God made the world in six and rest on the seventh.

So, I had a very patient Building Committee. Every time I said that they just smiled at me, they didn’t say a word. I don’t think they wanted to dampen my spirits but I have no doubt that they were very relieved because after the first construction meeting, I looked at all of them and said, “We can’t do it in 7 days, can we?” and then they just continue to smile at me. We are here today and you know one of my favourite quotes is that, “There’s no doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world for indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Our small group of caring people set out on a journey to bring a centre to Walton County and we did it.

Many of you know that “no” is not a word in my vocabulary and a lot of you in this audience know that for sure. So we made it happen but it wouldn’t happen without all the people that came on the journey with us. First of all, to Lynn and Steve Dugas and the Dugas Family Foundation. They believed in us when we came to them and said we wanted to open a small centre here in Walton County to get started and they invested even more in being a part of the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Centre. To Sheriff Adkinson, Art and Bill for their part in finding this property that we’re standing at today. To the Walton County Board of County Commissioners for leasing this beautiful property to us. I had only asked for 50 years and we got 99 so that was a pretty good deal. To our state legislators, Representative Drake, Senator Gaetz, Representative Gaetz, we couldn’t do without the support of you not only for our centre but for centres around the state of Florida. To Tracy Jernigan and Matt Parker, JP Engineering for preparing our property, for this beautiful building and they also taught me a little bit about site engineering.

To Al McGinnis, our architect. He not only designed the centre here in DeFuniak but he designed the centre in Niceville as well. I ran into him and his wife at Bed Bath and Beyond in Destin shopping one day and I told him about my vision of building a centre in Walton County. The next week he was in my office asking, “So when are we getting started?” and so we are here today. I thought I was the only who was enthused but obviously he was too.

To Terry Jones. I met Terry, I spoke at a BIA meeting, about our vision for Walton County. He came up to me after that meeting and said, “I will build that centre for you.” I don’t think he knew I wanted it in seven days though, but I watched him this week in this building and he is a very kind, proud and genuine man who put his heart and soul into this building, so Terry, thank you so very, very much. He also does a great job of hanging artwork.

To Cathy Jones, his wife. When I met Cathy she offered to help with the interior design of the building. I’m not sure she knew she would be the interior designer because she became that. You have created more than our vision of a bright and happy place to bring hope and healing to the children we see and this is a priceless gift so thank you very much, Cathy. I love both of you guys. To Jack Huggins, thank you for taking such good care of our building and creating the model and I do need you to help me hang that on the wall when we’re done. To Tom Dunn. Tom Dunn has been at this centre longer than I have.

He was supposed to retire last year but he said he would stay on another year to help us complete the Children’s Advocacy Centre and Tom, we could not have done this without you so I will be forever ever grateful. To our staff, thank you to each and every one of your for your commitment and willingness to get this job done. They also know I don’t take “no” for an answer and a very special thank you to Lisa Jeffries. She has been a leading force in developing the relationships that we have in Walton County, not only with the community but with our team. So, as soon as we open the doors of the Pierce Family Centre, this is just the beginning, the building’s done but our journey isn’t over yet. There are two special people here today that I really do believe we would not be standing here if it was not for them

. Mike and Valerie Thompson. This amazing couple has given so much of their time and talents and resources for the last 5 years that you cannot put a price on their gift. Our vision soared because of them and through them and through their connections. I have met so many people who are here standing here today because of Mike and Val’s influence and what is really neat is we did find a way to honour them and we named our “Hope and Healing” wing in their honour, so it is the “Mike and Val Open Healing” wing. That is the wing where children go to get hope and healing and so, Mike and Val you have  left your legacy here with us as well. Also two people I met through Mike and Val are Tammy and Jim Pierce. You see they have given a priceless gift to our kids.

They chose to leave a legacy that will be forever imprinted on every child that walks through these doors after today. Tammy and Jim, I don’t even know how to ever thank you and I hope you know I’m forever grateful on behalf of all the kids that we will see because you know folks, as soon as we do open these doors, we’ll be in. We’ll keep seeing kids until that glorious day when, it probably won’t be me, but once someone (?-) hangs the “Close for Business” sign because our children are living free of abuse and neglect. It is with great honour that I introduce you to Tammy and Jim Pierce.

Jim Pierce – Transcript

Thank you. Thank you, Julie. Isn’t she remarkable? Let’s hear it for Julie. She is an angel. What a day this is. I know we’ve had some little bad weather last few days and it’s like God looked down and said, “For Julie and the centre we’re going to have nice weather. We’re going to have beautiful sunshine.” Unfortunately though, if you’re a child being abused there are no pretty days, there are no sunny days. Everyday you wake up it’s a day of cloudiness because you don’t know if that’s the day you’re going to be belittled, that’s the day you’re going to be smacked around and beaten or that’s the day something else worse is going to happen to you. So, Julie and all the people that are around, bless you for all you do for these children. It is amazing, it’s just amazing. What I like to do…that’s my grandson,

I’m sorry, he didn’t say, “Hi, Pa” he said, “Hi, Gigi.” You know how that goes. Anyway, adorable. What I’d like to do is the real…you know, when you’re last to speak and everybody else has already thanked everybody. So, I just, “ditto”. So you just feel thanked, okay? But I’d like to give some more thanks to just a couple of people and it’s the workers behind these doors that make the difference. It’s the nurses and the doctors and the advocacy’s people and volunteers and the police that work out of here et cetera. So, if you are associated with working inside these doors and helping the kids, volunteer or share for whatever…will you please stand up and raise your hand? Because we would like to honour you. Thank you. Thank you for giving up your life to helping the children.

Thank you. I had the pleasure of coming to the gala that was not long ago and a beautiful young woman, a beautiful soul, beautiful inside and outside told her story and her family story and one of the things that I will remember the rest of my life is that she said, “They were there for us” and you don’t know how important that is because if you’re being abused, you need somebody there for you and I’m so happy that these doors are here to help the kids going forward. So thank you everybody. People ask why did Tammy and I give the money we gave. Well, first I just want to say that that was a stretch for us.

We’ve never done anything like this before but we’re both passionate about helping kids and when you meet Julie and you see the foundation that she has in this community with Senator Gaetz and Sheriff Adkinson and the list goes on and on and all of you. By the way, Julie and I were just talking and we’ve got so many checks today that we’re going to make this a monthly event. So, put it on your calendar so that we can get you back here next month as well. Julie stole my thunder a little bit but I do want to give special thanks to a couple couples. One is Steve and Lynn Dugas. There you are. They are amazing. Amazing. Their family not only gave to the original centre and gave to Niceville but they gave a half a million dollars to this facility. Bless you, bless you very much. Tammy and I have become more involved in the community and trying to help some other charities and every charity I go to there’s a plaque on the wall where Steve and Lynn have given them the building or given them something else. So, you are amazing and we’re honored to call you our friends.

Thank you. And then, Mike and Val Thompson, we just recognized you but let me just say, you truly are two of our best friends. It’s amazing. Mike and Val started years ago helping charities and what they do is they bring friends who have been blessed with success and they bring them involved and they never take a penny, they never take a penny off the top. When they have an event, different charities sponsor that event and all the money go straight to them and they’ve raised over 50 million dollars over the years so, bless the two of you. I have lots of family here, they came from Maryland and from Virginia and New Mexico and Alabama and even down the street. So, it’s good to have them here but I want to just address a couple of them because as some of you know, I had a tough childhood, lived in 15 different homes and twice…I’d like to just say thank you to my sister in law, Bernadette and my brother who’s passed a few years back, that when I was a young teenager, they took me in for awhile and they didn’t have anything. My brother’s working two jobs and trying to go to school.

They had a small child and one on the way but they made sure I had something to eat every night. God bless you. My sister and her late husband, John, they were unbelievable to me. I left home when I was 16 and at 16 when you left home it’s hard to do for yourself. They took me in and my brother in law, he was the classic blue collar worker. His heart was just a heart of gold, worked for Barber’s Milk, for those of you know Barber’s Milk, he worked there for, I think, about 40 years delivering milk to grocery stores and he didn’t have anything but a good heart.

So, Karen and John let me stay with them and when I moved in with them in Birmingham, it was World War Two housing and it was a 600 square foot bungalow so in one bedroom was my sister, her husband, their son, Johnny and a little baby and the other bedroom was his sister, whose husband had left her and three little kids. I slept on the couch and we had one bathroom and it was…but we were happy and I felt safe and I’ve always…thank you Karen.

Thank you so much. We’re almost to the end of this so we can have some barbeque. I also want to thank my other family and that’s my Isagenix family. Isagenix is a company that I partly own and it is a company that my partners and I, when we founded it, we said that we wanted to give back to the community and my partners, the company, myself and several people who are here have given and they’ve given over 150,000 dollars to the centre.

I just would like to recognize that. If you’re using our products or you’re making your living…I see Price and his lovely wife there and others, can you just raise your hand so we can say thank you for all you’ve done for the centre.

Sheriff Adkinson

The thing that touches me most about this center is that over the course of the last twenty-three some odd years in this business, I have to confess to you that I do not possess the strength that is sometimes needed to do this work. And when the times seem that it takes a better man than I am, I have the great fortune of being lifted up and seeing the strength of the people around me. A lot of those people are standing right here today. I’ve seen our internet crimes against children investigators in the back there. I see the tired investigators. I see counselors, doctors, volunteers, people who have dedicated their life to breaking this cycle. And I will tell you that the hardest thing, the most important thing, courageous thing that I witness every day, is the victims that will stand up and say no more. And try and reach out and make a difference. You know, Mr. Pierce, I want to make this point that you heard the other speakers say, the ripples that changes lives. They do, they change lives.

And what I respect about you Mr. Pierce, not only is your support, your continuing support, but your willingness to stand up and tell your story. Because it is unbelievable hard. And today I think back to a little girl named Autumn. You and I talk about this on occasion. Autumn was a girl who was failed by the system and those closest to her. But I can’t help but believe that because of the work of the men and women, the strength of the children, that I got a smile a little bit. And for me, if I had twisted your arm, if I had bullied you to get you here, I absolutely do not apologize. Thank you for being a small part of this.

Thank you sir. Julie I believe we have a presentation now.

Thank you, if Fred Luca could come up. This is a great group of law enforcement, retired, active, who have come together with us for several years now to help support the children’s advocacy center. And through a number of their fundraisers, especially the Emerald Coast Challenge last year, they raised close to fifteen thousand dollars to sponsor the center. So here to bring the check, did you bring the check for us? Yeah? It’s my job to ask for money.

My name is Fred Luca, I’m with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, I’m a lieutenant and right here is Keith Mars, one of our investigators who has just retired. We see first hand all this that goes on, but some people don’t realize last couple of years we had four of our deputies were killed in the line of duty. Each time that that happens, you have families that left in the wake of that tragedy, children left in the wake of that tragedy.

Julie volunteered her staff outside the scope of what they normally would have been working on with these children to help the officer’s families and children going through that type of period, which I will be forever grateful and love Julie for for what she’s done.

On top of what she provides, which is a horrible, horrible thing that we have to have this in our world. Julie said to me not too long ago, I was her about this, she said I’m just the cheerleader. I had to correct her, I said she is the quarterback.

She’s thrown a hundred yard pass into the end zone and she has connected because she’s got everybody here and she’s our charity and our supporter. Just like any of y’all. What we have is we have a check here for $13,000 here for you Julie. Oop, he don’t want to give it up. We have a check for $13,000. You are very much welcome and thank you very much.

Matt and Sen. Don Gaetz – Transcript

Today is a day of great celebration and bounty. But I recall the times have not always been so fruitful. Sheriff Atkinson, you will recall several years ago when we were summoned by Julie Hurst over to Niceville. Because the money had run out for the medical professionals who provide the examinations and the service that make Mr. Edson’s prosecution possible of the worst among us. The money was out and we didn’t know what to do. And Sheriff Atkinson cut his own budget here in Walton County to send funds to that senate to make that possible. It wasn’t reported in the paper, but it sure was Sheriff.

And as she always does, Julie somehow made it work that year. And I am proud to announce to you today that we went back to Tallahassee with a (?? 0:58) Call and with the help of representative Brad Drake and Senator Don Gates, I can report to you that the funding for children’s advocacy centers and child protection teams has never been higher than right now in the State of Florida today.

I want to tell you about the worst report I received when I was Chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee in the House of Representatives. Over the last fifteen years, the State of Florida has caught, arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned and then released five hundred and ninety-six violent sexual predators. Those five hundred and ninety-six people went on to commit over fourteen hundred acts of molestation against children.

They went on to rape over one hundred twenty women in our state, and they killed thirteen of our fellow Floridians. There is one particular case that still haunts me and probably will my whole life. Cherish Perrywinkle was ten years old and she was abducted, raped and murdered by a violent sexual predator who had been released that day. As a result of a loophole in the system.

 And when faced with this kind of treachery, what are we to do? I can tell you this, there is no army on the planet earth stronger than armies of compassion and love that fight for the children of our communities. And so we got together with State Attorney Edmonds, with Sheriff Atkinson, with victim’s advocates like Julie Hurst. And we increased funding for children’s advocacy centers, for buildings and for operations. We’ve funded our Guardian Ad Litem program with the highest levels in state history so that they will be a voice in court for children on the front end of these challenging circumstances.

And then I was proud, along with Representative Brad Drake to introduce and pass the toughest laws in America for children and against the violent sexual predators. Now in Florida there are no such loopholes. Now in Florida, there is not time off for good behavior for those who harm children. And if anyone commits a rape against a child, a senior citizen or someone who is disabled, only in Florida, they will spend not a day less than fifty years in state prison. And when we passed that landmark historic legislation, the victim’s and their families came to Tallahassee to celebrate. And sadly, the family members of those who thought the punishments were too tough also came in protest. And I’m proud to tell all of you, that BACA, Bikers against child abuse sent members from every chapter in Florida to protect those children. And I tell you, they were sure protected by the second amendment, weren’t they. So thank you from our friends at BACA.

And so now here we stand before a building that will house the hands of our counselors who will wipe away those tears Jeff. And will put lives back together. We will have our most diligent investigators tracking down predators. We will have our most talented prosecutors holding them accountable. And we do have the toughest laws in America to make sure they never again see the light of day if they hurt our kids. And so at this time I would like to invite Senator Don Gates up where we have a special presentation on behalf of this day.

Thank you Senator Drake, would you come forward please? Eighteen months ago, Julie Hurst called me and said you are invited to the groundbreaking of the new children’s advocacy center in Defuniak Springs. I said that’s great Julie. She said, bring money. So today we brought money. Julie, Art. This commemoration carries the seals of the House of Representatives and Senate of Florida. That means it’s real. In commemoration of the grand opening of the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center, dedicated to the protection of children, devoted to care comfort and healing. Committed to advocacy and justice. The State of Florida is privileged to provide $250,000 in construction funds. And here’s the best part, and $100,000 a year for this year and every year in the future in recurring annual operating funds for the design development and ongoing services of this children’s advocacy center presented this eighth day of April, 2016, on behalf of the House of Representatives and the Senate of Florida.

Thank you.

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Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center Defuniak Springs Opens #30a

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