Handy volunteers step up to save Child Advocacy Center

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A group of handy volunteers have stepped up to save the Whiteside County Child Advocacy Center from closing its doors.

The Sterling-Rock Falls Sunrise Rotary Club is remodeling the new home of April House at 501 N. Madison in Morrison, Illinois. Members are building a wheelchair ramp, widening doorways, and installing walls and soundproofing -- all free of charge.

"The Rotary motto is 'service above self,' and this just seemed like a place we ought to go to work," said member Gary Schopp.

April House helps children who are victims of abuse or neglect. At the child advocacy center, a forensic psychologist often conducts interviews that are recorded and used in court. This minimizes trauma to the child, who avoids being re-interviewed by lawyers, law enforcement, and others.

"To me, the worst criminal is somebody who abuses a child, and in order to prosecute them and put them away where they belong, we have to have April House," said Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi.

The home, though, has faced financial trouble.

"We were on the brink of closing. We were unable to pay our forensic interviewer, our bills were past due, we weren't even able to pay the county rent," said Trish Joyce, the Whiteside County State's Attorney.

April House recently lost funding because it wasn't accredited. To apply for that accreditation and additional grant money, though, the home must first be ADA compliant.

When the community learned of April House's plight, various groups and individuals donated more than $50,000 to remodel the home and keep it open. The Rotarians donated their labor as well.

"There are few things worse than abusing a child. If what we are doing can help prevent that, then we're serving a greater need," explained Schopp.

Joyce calls the outpouring of support "absolutely awesome."

"I am elated, I am surprised, I'm amazed," said Joyce. "We have received checks ranging from $10 to over $12,000. It's gratifying, and it says a lot about the people of Whiteside County."

Rotary members said they hope to finish the new April House by June.