This December 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of River Bridge opening its doors to child abuse victims and their families.
As the old cliché goes, you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.
The work began way before the doors opened. Joyce Bulifant Perry and the Rotary Club of Carbondale – Aspen Glen (now known as the Mt. Sopris Rotary Club) worked tirelessly to make their dream come true. Child Advocacy Centers were not new (the movement began in the early 1990’s) but the concept was new to our community. It took a lot of education, relationship building and fundraising to make the Center a reality. The Rotary Club raised over $102,000 for the Center, the Garfield County Commissioners agreed to build a $600,000 building and the national non-profit organization, Child Help, offered to provide the administration for the program. The Child Help River Bridge Center (fka) opened its doors in December 2007 with a Director and a Victim Advocate on staff. In addition, Garfield County Department of Human Services provided a forensic interviewer, Susan Whiting, and a mental health therapist, Meghan Hurley Backofen on site. Meghan has been our center’s one constant over the years and continues to provide hope and healing for child abuse victims and our community.
With a rough start in the Director position, in 2008 the Center was lucky enough to have Susan Ackerman join the team. Susan provided stability for the organization and led the team to successful National Children’s Alliance accreditation in 2010.
Also in 2010, the DHS forensic interviewer resigned her position to move her family east. At that time the Center focused on building a more diverse forensic interviewer team. A successful team is essential to providing consistent and professional forensic interviews for children. Our Center has been lucky enough to have agreements with partner agencies to provide professional interviews. Interviewers have been provided over the years by Garfield County Department of Human Services, Rifle Police Department, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, Carbondale Police Department, Basalt Police Department, Aspen Police Department, in addition to individual contract employees paid by River Bridge. (Dina Prieto, Linda Consuegra, Megan Alstatt). In April 2012, River Bridge had the opportunity to hire a full-time forensic interviewer/community outreach coordinator. Today we have Bridget Derkash flourishing in this position. And last year we had grown so much that we were in the position of hiring a part-time forensic interviewer as well. We were happy to welcome Anais Hernandez to this role in October 2017.
Our Victim Advocate position is the most important and the most difficult job we have at River Bridge. We have had a total of six people in this position since the doors opened in 2007. In December 2013 we hired Lori Bennett. Lori is our “air traffic controller” and the face of our advocacy center. Our clients know that they can count on Lori.
The River Bridge medical program was created by Lauren Gueriera. Lauren was a founding task force member and at the time the center opened was the SANE program coordinator at Valley View Hospital. Our medical program has grown into what it is today because of Kelley Hill. Kelley spent the first year volunteering her time with River Bridge after VVH closed their sex assault nurse examiner (SANE) program in 2012. So far in 2017, Kelley has seen over 60 children for medical services at River Bridge. Today we are looking towards continued growth of our medical program. River Bridge will be taking the Mountain West SANE Alliance under our umbrella starting in January 2018. The program has four nurses on contract currently and another five nurses are in training to do SANE exams.
In August 2011, Child Help River Bridge hired me (Blythe Chapman) as the Director. At the time I wasn’t sure I was the best person for the job. However, I quickly realized that this was exactly what I was supposed to do with my career. I am so happy that my good friend Meghan Backofen called me that day and convinced me to apply.
It was very apparent within a few weeks of being on the job that our Colorado program’s relationship with the national non-profit, Child Help, was strained. Although our community had grown to rely upon the organization and financially support the program in many ways, Child Help was having trouble paying bills for many programs throughout the country. I learned that our partners and local advisory board had been working on fixing this problem for some time. Within a year of being on the job, Child Help had turned off our credit card (our only way to buy supplies for the center) and was threatening to not make payroll, and I learned that a CAC in another state had closed its’ doors. I knew that we had to do something or our center would do the same.
In May 2012, I met with Sheriff Lou Vallario and Chief Terry Wilson. They both promised that they would not see their center close its’ doors. Lou and Terry pulled together a Board of Directors to include Jeff Cheney (Assistant DA at the time) and attorney Scott Balcolm. Lou hired our staff and we successfully split from Child Help.
By September 2012, River Bridge Regional Center had been created and had our own 501c3 non-profit status. In January 2013, River Bridge had our first employee, Blythe Chapman. Exactly one year from obtaining non-profit status, we no longer had any salary support from the Sheriff’s office. Today we have a 100% community Board of Directors, over five months of reserve in the bank and stable funding. We pay our bills on time and we are a local non-profit in good standing with the State of Colorado, our funders and our partners.
River Bridge Regional Center has served over 1,500 children and their non-offending family members since opening our doors. RBRC now serves the four-county area of Garfield, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, and Eagle. This is an area covering 8,800 square miles with a population of over 132,000. In 2016 we saw 208 children. This is a 160% increase over our first year of operation. In 2017 to date we have already seen over 200 children. We experience an increase in children and families served every year and we expect to continue to experience this increase. We have outgrown our space and will expand physically in 2018. Our budget has grown from less than $200k a year to over $500k in 2018.
We are excited to experience where the next 10 years takes us! We know that we wouldn’t be here today without the vision and work of many, many people. We are here tonight to honor those who made this program a reality.