SNOW HILL – A satellite child advocacy center will open in Pocomoke following approval of a funding reallocation.
The CRICKET Center is expected to use funding previously intended for construction of a new facility to go toward opening a satellite location in Pocomoke. The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the reallocation.
“I think the children of Pocomoke deserve this,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Lauren Cooper, executive director of the CRICKET Center, and Stefanie Franklin, treasurer of the nonprofit’s board, met with the commissioners this week to provide an update on the organization’s efforts and to seek approval for the funding reallocation. Cooper, who took over the center in 2022, said the facility worked to reduce the trauma experienced by child victims by bringing all the relevant local agencies together. The facility, located near Atlantic General Hospital, is a neutral location in which law enforcement and Child Protecive Services investigators can conduct interviews with children who are victims of crimes. The nonprofit is accredited by the National Children’s Alliance.
Cooper said the agency, which is grant funded, had a variety of needs, including the latest technology, specialized training, after-hours staff and an interpreter. She said the facility was also in dire need of expansion, as 10 people work in the center’s 1,600-square-foot office. That, Franklin explained, was why the center had requested and been granted $190,000 by the commissioners as part of a capital campaign for a new facility. During the pandemic, however, several major fundraisers had to be canceled. In the wake of that, a variety of issues came up that prompted center staff to reconsider new construction. Franklin said the center had a great rent agreement with Atlantic General Hospital that it didn’t want to give up. Furthermore, mortgage payments aren’t typically eligible for grant funding, while rent can be.
“We decided to identify our greatest needs,” Franklin said. “In doing that we had to look at our underserved kids. Building a large building is beautiful but it doesn’t get kids in Pocomoke to us.”
Cooper said school administrators in the Pocomoke area are increasingly reaching out to the center for help. Transportation from Pocomoke to Berlin can be a burden for families and caregivers.
“This isn’t about the best location for child advocacy center,” Cooper said. “This is about making sure all kids in Worcester County have equal access to a child advocacy center and the services that we offer. As needs arise in each of your districts, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to advocate for those children.”
She added that relocating entirely to Pocomoke was not an option, because in order for the center to maintain its accreditation, it has to be headquartered within 15 miles of an emergency room. She said center leadership had determined that setting up a satellite office was the best way to serve more children in Worcester County.
“We have an opportunity here to meet an immediate need in Worcester County versus construction…,” she said. “A facility in Pocomoke is going to relieve the transportation burden off of caregivers. They’re not going to have to travel 60 miles round trip to berlin for services. In turn, our team is going to have a quicker response time when they’re called to homes or schools in Pocomoke.”
She said the center was requesting to use the $190,000 provided by the commissioners for the capital campaign for operating expenses for a new satellite office in Pocomoke. She said there was a lease drafted for a suitable space and that if the center moved forward now, the office could be outfitted by the end of the year so that limited services could be offered in early 2024 with a grand opening in April.
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked Cooper how the center was funded.
“We are state mandated, but we are not state funded at all,” Cooper said, adding that the center’s $287,000 annual budget was funded with grants.
Mitrecic said the commissioners had acknowledged the need for the center’s services when they initially allocated the $190,000 to the capital campaign. He made a motion to reallocate the funding so that Pocomoke children could benefit from the center’s services.
“I’m thrilled you’re going to be coming to Pocomoke,” said Commissioner Caryn Abbott, who represents the Pocomoke area.
The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the reallocation of funding. Cooper thanked the commissioners for their approval.
“We look forward to working with you,” Cooper said. “This is going to be a really awesome thing.”