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On the Coast Magazine

Children's Advocacy Center has a new home

10/28/2014 12:16AM ● Published by Nancy Babin

Construction underway in Walton County for new Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center


October 27 was a great day for children in Walton County who may be experiencing the ordeal of abuse, abandonment or neglect. Amidst great fanfare, including a $1 million donation by the Pierce Family,  the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) held their official ground breaking for a new center that is expected to open in early 2016. 

Dignitaries present were Secretary Mike Carroll,  Department of Children and Families; Senator Don Gaetz; Representative Matt Gaetz; Florida State 1st Judicial Circuit Attorney Bill Eddins; Walton County Superintendent Carlene Anderson; Walton County Commission Chair Mel Chapman;  Sheriff Michael Adkinson, Walton County Sheriff’s Department; and Captain Mike Lolley, Defuniak Springs Police Department. 

ECCAC’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect, protect children in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, and restore the lives and futures of these impacted children. The center’s existing 13,000 sq. ft. child-friendly facility in Niceville, opened 14 years ago today, houses a multidisciplinary team of child protection personnel, prosecutors, law enforcement, DCF, therapists, and ECCAC staff and volunteers. The same services, along with any other services identified will be offered at the new Walton County facility.

The new 15,000 square foot center will have the feel and look of its DeFuniak Springs residential surrounds, a 4,000 square foot central kid’s interior courtyard, salt water aquarium and a totally child friendly, inviting environment. Allen Ray McGinnis, the architect who designed the Niceville center, is again donating his talents for the Walton County Center, Terry Jones of Compass Builders  is the contractor donating his services,  Tracy Jernigan and Matt Parker of JP Engineering have been donated their talents to make the project a reality.  In addition, Defuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell and the City Council have showed spirit and support  since the inception of the project and the Walton County of Board of County Commissioners entered into a 99 year/$1.00 per year property lease with the Center to ensure the perfect on College Avenue.  

According to ECCAC CEO Julie Hurst, “As Margaret Meade  once said, “Never doubt that a small group of  thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”   

In Walton County, a large community group of caring citizens, volunteers, businesses  have come forward to lend their time, talents and treasures  to make our Walton County dream become a reality. A beautiful, old live oak tree planted by  Oscar Harrison in 1955 will remain intact on the property. We like to think that this tree symbolizes the work we do for children, restoring their often damaged roots, to help them grow healthy and happy lives.

“So many people aren’t aware of the need that exists in Walton County to help impacted children restore their lives. Just in the past  two and  a half years since opening ECCAC’s temporary DeFuniak Springs facility, they have served  616 children. The new center will enable more children to be served and helped,” commented Senator Don Gaetz. “This is a cause in which I take great personal interest in my district, and even more so, because of my background in the Okaloosa County education system. On a daily basis, we saw what children of all ages had to deal with when adverse problems arose in their home lives. ECCAC is in place to help guide these children back to normal lives.”

With the assistance of Senator Gaetz, ECCAC successfully secured a $250,000 State of Florida appropriation that will go towards the $3 million fund raising campaign for the new Walton County center.  Senator Gaetz and Representative Gaetz also secured $100,000 per year in recurring state funding to operate the center once it is built.  This funding, added to the generous $1 million contribution made by the Pierce family and the new center is off to a good start. Room sponsorships are available with specific rooms in the center being named in honor of the donor. 

Jim Pierce, a Walton County resident, is making a matching donation which means that any additional donations received throughout 2015 will in effect, be doubled. With a $1.2 million annual operating budget required in addition to the $3 million capital/endowment campaign, services provided to the children are at no cost  ECCAC, a 501-C-3, relies heavily on public donations and grants.

For further information on ECCAC, visit www.eccac.org or call 850.833.9237, Ext. 222. If abuse is suspected, call the anonymous Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.
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About Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center
The Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) provides services to help identify, treat and support children in abusive situations. The organization helps prevent child abuse through education, protects child victims from future abuse, and provides resources to restore the lives of the child and the child’s family. The Center is a non-profit organization located in Niceville, Fla. It serves Okaloosa and Walton counties and houses representatives from the Florida Department of Children and Families, Child Protection Team, State Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement, and licensed mental health counselors. For more information or to support the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center please visit http://www.eccac.org. If you suspect abuse, call the Florida Abuse Hotline 1-800-96-ABUSE.

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