A private organization, the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center received some very public attention and admiration Tuesday.

In recognition of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, members of the Waxahachie Mothers Club hosted its third annual appreciation luncheon for the center’s multi-disciplinary investigative team, which includes law enforcement agencies, the center’s forensic interviewer, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Ellis County Juvenile Services and the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office.

“It’s our way of saying thanks,” club president DeAnn Bell said.

The Mother’s Club has a “Gift of the Heart” each month for a social service agency that works with women and children.

“I used to be in social services and I know the work they do,” Bell said. “I know that this isn’t one of those feel-good agencies, but it’s an agency that we have to have.”

“They’re so badly needed to help children,” said club member Bernyce Crownover, who also serves as board president for the Gingerbread House. “I’m very grateful to have them here, where everyone is here for the children.”

The center held an open house in coordination with the luncheon, with members of Blue Knights Texas XXI law enforcement motorcycle club attending to present a $7,000 donation check to the Gingerbread House. The money came from a Cruise for Kids event hosted by the Blue Knights earlier this year in which members take part in a matching funds program by Carnival Cruise Lines.

More than 60 Blue Knights went on the cruise, which went to the Caribbean Islands, with Carnival matching a $35 per person donation. Additional monies were raised during the cruise through fundraising games and events, chapter president Kenneth Reeves said, noting that Blue Knights member Bob Zazulak of Sylvan Lake Alberta, Canada, happened to be on the cruise and donated $500, while Rhome resident Jim Roybal of Crouch Engineering offered a one-hour champagne hot air balloon ride that the Blue Knights auctioned for $500.

“Between the games and the donations, we came up with the money,” Reeves said. “When we do this type of thing, the general public is welcome to come along and help. This is for the kids, we don’t keep any of it.”

The chapter, which includes active and retired law enforcement officers, does a fundraiser each year for the Gingerbread House.

“Most of the money we raise goes to the advocacy center,” said Bill Hudgins, chapter vice president and Colleyville police community service officer.

During Tuesday’s open house, the public was able to meet members on the multi-disciplinary team and take tours of the center’s new building, located at the corner of Ross and Farley streets.

“It’s to give residents a better understanding of the purpose of the Gingerbread House and how we serve Ellis County,” executive director John Wyckoff said. “Years ago, in a sexual assault case, CPS, caseworkers, police departments and the district attorney’s office would all try to get the evidence from the child. Our goal is the child comes over here and, hopefully, with a good outcry, just tells the story one time.”  

The Gingerbread House offers a safe place where victims of child abuse can receive proper law enforcement agency attention without the trauma of continuously re-telling what has happened to them, Wyckoff said, saying that with all of the agencies coordinating efforts in the child-friendly environment, the cases can be handled efficiently.

“(Multi-disciplinary team members) can all use each other’s experience and gather the evidence,” Wyckoff said. “We want to be an asset to the whole process.”  

The Gingerbread House opened its doors in December 1999 in space provided by the Texas Baptist Home for Children, moving several years later to offices provided rent-free by Comerica Bank. After launching a capital campaign, the center constructed its own facility and moved in during December.

The new building has a room where the forensic interviewer conducts interviews with the child victims, a family room for non-offending family members, a reception area, workroom, boardroom, conference room and offices for the members of the multi-disciplinary team.

E-mail Bitty at bitty.reilly@wninews.com