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Gala supports center’s mission: Help abused kids

POSTED: August 17, 2013 11:25 p.m.

People mingle and look at different items during the sixth annual Gala for Hope & Healing at the Smithgall Arts Center. The event benefited the Children's Center For Hope & Healing, and featured a silent auction and dinner.

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For the staff of the Children’s Center For Hope & Healing, Saturday night’s sixth annual Gala for Hope & Healing had fun, entertainment and more importantly, a purpose.

The center provides counseling, education and advocacy to victims of sexual abuse throughout 13 counties in the Northeast Georgia area.

The gala was held at Smithgall Arts Center. It featured a dinner and more than 100 items up for bid in a silent auction. All proceeds went toward aiding the center’s mission: stopping the cycle of sexual abuse.

Executive Director Betty Guilfoile said a lot of the services the center provides are paid for by events like the gala, and helps keep their service free for victims.

“People are excited about what we are doing,” she said. “We try to be very cost effective with the money that people donate to us.”

She also said the center receives grants through various organizations, and the state also helps with the cost.

“We try to be good stewards of the money that we receive from our donors, from the government to provide these services,” Guilfoile said. “Sometimes, the subject of child sexual abuse is not something people really want to talk about.

“The people (who attended the gala) really understand what we do. They have passion for what we’re doing here. It’s wonderful to meet people who I’ve never met before who are interested and passionate about the same thing we’re passionate about.”

Guilfoile said the center served 1,500 children in the last year.

Erik Puckett, president of the center’s board, said Saturday was “reaffirming” in how the local community helps with important causes.

“This gives me hope. Some one not familiar with the cause might be astounded at the number of children who are impacted (by sexual abuse),” he said. “Knowing the ins and outs of what it takes to run an organization like this, and to have a community that gives this much back, it’s really refreshing.

“(The gala) tells you that people aren’t as scared of the subject as one might think. ... If it were (the subject) to perpetually be thrown in the closet and people not talk about it, then the children would never know about the center. They wouldn’t get the free help.”

In addition to helping children deal with sexual abuse, the center provides services for women of sexual abuse.

Cheryl Miller, 49, said it took 36 years to get past her abuse. She credits the center’s women’s program.

“For me, it was a great program,” she said. “What I have done with what I learned (at the center) is I have gone to my church, and I have started a support group for survivors of sexual abuse.”

Miller also said it’s “awesome” to have people trying to get the message of sexual abuse out to the public.

“One of the things I do struggle with is just trying to get the word out. Let people know i’m a survivor of sexual abuse,” she said. “I went to a training class on the warning signs to look for in children, and one of the things they told us was it’s easier for people to talk about cancer than it is sexual abuse.

“So, to see this many people willing to support those of us who that are survivors, to let us know that they’re willing to get the help out there, is huge for me. ... If you would have told me I would have been doing this a year ago, I would have said ‘no’ because I was somebody that was broken, and didn’t think their was any hope from my past. That I could move forward. That I could be at peace, and now, my goal is to let people who have been abused, let them know there is hope and healing. You can overcome it and you can have a successful life. Don’t let your past destroy your future.”

The center’s main office is at 226 Main St. SW, Gainesville, 770-532-6530. For more information, visit


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