More than 20 years since its inception, the Children's Center for Hope and Healing blossomed into a life-altering program, but not without the help of three specific women.
On Saturday, the organization held its fourth annual Gala for Hope and Healing at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, where it honored Lyn Orr, Evanda Moore and Madge Burch for the vital role in helping the program become what it is today.
"I think it's a really good idea to honor these women," said Randy Overdorff, a former six-year director of the organization.
"They're all volunteers and they're really who make the program go."
The Children's Center was incorporated in 1987 as a nonprofit organization to help children who were victims of sexual abuse.
All three women helped bring the issue of sexually abused children to the forefront at a time when it didn't receive much attention because people refused to believe it was a problem.
"Back when it started you hardly said ‘sex' in a polite conversation much less talked about abuse — no one though it happened," Burch said.
Moore was one of the organization's founding members when it was first incorporated.
"It's an honor to be honored tonight by this program that's so near and dear to my heart," she said.
Originally known as The Family Relations Program, Moore and other founding members worked with state legislators to obtain state funding and other grants until the program was formally incorporated.
"At the time, I was serving on a citizens review panel for juvenile court in Hall County and there were many parents of children in foster care that were victimizing their children and there were no services available," Moore said.
Although it took much work to get the organization off the ground and bring awareness to the issue, the ladies and other volunteers turned it into a program that treated nearly 1,200 people in 2010.
"This program started with very little seed money and no grants," Burch said. "People just kept lugging on until it finally has developed into what we have now, which I'm so proud of."
Because the problem was overlooked, Burch felt it necessary to attempt to bring attention to it.
"You had a feeling it was a lost cause as far as the community was concerned, and so that made you want to get in there and fight for it," she said.
Victims of sexual abuse are often too young to understand it's even a problem and often blame themselves, Burch said.
"There's just nothing worse than having a child have sexual abuse and kids always feel like it's their fault," she said. "Our purpose is to tell them that it's not, and to restore their self-respect, their dignity and their childhood."
The women, along with the entire organization, also attempted to prevent future instances of sexual abuse.
"We also want to keep them from becoming — because monkey-see, monkey-do — and some of these children go on to be abusers themselves because that's all they know," Burch said.
Each of the women served on the organizations board of directors at some point, but they refuse to take all the recognition for its success.
"I helped out when I could," Burch said. "I'm not a professional at all, I'm just a volunteer."
"I am very pleased and happy to be here to represent so many people who have made this organization what it is, because there were so many people before I came along," Orr said.
Orr has been working with the organization since the early 1990s — once serving as president of the board of directors — and felt the need to take initiative and volunteer for the cause.
"Not many people step up to do this kind of work," she said. "It's not real popular and I just felt like it was a place where I could be a voice for children and their families that can't speak for themselves."
The benefit of knowing they may have changed a child's life is a factor the women pride themselves on.
"I get a sense of satisfaction out of knowing that maybe, because of my efforts some child was saved," Orr said.