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Congratulations to Child Advocacy of Alma



By Emma Selmon
Herald News Editor
There may not be a grand opening in the works quite yet, but there’s no shortage of celebration among the Child Advocacy staff as they settle into their new home.
 Child Advocacy is an “umbrella” nonprofit that is comprised of four main programs: Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Gratiot County Substance Abuse Coalition.
And they’re not far from where they used to be — in fact, Child Advocacy is still located right on State Street in Alma. They’re just next door to the Wilcox Nonprofit Center, the building they called home up until this November.
The new building is a functional upgrade for Child Advocacy, especially in terms of space.
While they were based in Wilcox, their four programs were operating in just over 3,000 square feet. With over 13,800 square feet in the new building, they’ve more than quadrupled their space — and they’re already able to better serve the community.
Audra Stahl, president and CEO of Child Advocacy, said that although they’ve been in the building less than two months, they’re already able to “function more efficiently.”
“Right down to our equipment, everything is easier to operate and easier to use because of the way we’ve been able to design the space to meet the needs,” she said.
The construction of the new building, which is overseen by Mt. Pleasant-based Konwinski Construction, was supposed to begin in March. But when COVID-19 hit and the state paused construction projects, the project was put on hold.
They broke ground in May as soon as they were allowed to resume — and even though they lost two months to the COVID-19 shutdown, the builders still completed the project within the “original timeline.”
“They worked really fast and got it done really quickly,” Stahl said. “So we were really pleasantly surprised, because I just didn’t think it was going to be possible.”
They were able to stick to their original building plans as well: even though construction began in the midst of COVID-19, their building design happened to be rather pandemic-friendly, Stahl said. Many parts of the building were designed with privacy in mind, to help maintain the confidentiality of their clients.
Privacy is a key part of the Children’s Advocacy Center, which is separate and secure area of the building to accommodate children and families working through child abuse cases. While they were based in Wilcox, the Children’s Advocacy Center was located in a renovated garage and could only accommodate one family at a time; now, the space has the rooms and equipment to confidentially serve up to two families at once.
In addition to the Children’s Advocacy Center, the new building also has 16 offices for employees in the various programs, as well as dedicated storage for each program and a number of conference rooms. There is also space for their Baby Pantry and resource library, both of which offer important help to families in the community.
The new Child Advocacy building also has space for services they were previously unable to host onsite. This includes space for therapy and for medical examinations. They also have a large training room and a catering kitchen, which will allow them to host community training events. They’ll also be able to offer that space to their community partner organizations as needed.
Stahl said that Child Advocacy made an effort to work with as many local contractors and subcontractors as possible, and nearly all were based in either Gratiot or Isabella County. Green Side Up took care of the landscaping, Mann Painting did the interior painting, and Breckenridge’s Saia Fabricating provided all of the steel.
They’re still working on finishing touches — there are some furniture pieces they’re still waiting on, and most of the interior doesn’t have artwork up yet. Stahl said there are some special projects forthcoming as well, including murals in the Children’s Advocacy Center interview rooms and a donor wall to recognize all who helped make the new building a reality.
By moving across the parking lot, Child Advocacy was also able to open up more space in the Wilcox Nonprofit Center for other organizations to move in. Eli Hall, director of development for United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties, said that as of January, two organizations — RISE Advocacy, Inc. and Disability Network of Mid-Michigan — have moved in, and more space is still available.
With Child Advocacy in their new space and more nonprofits in Wilcox, over 10 separate nonprofit organizations now have a presence on State Street in Alma.
Both Hall and Stahl agree that having so many services on the same campus is a great benefit to their clients: it’s a “a one-stop-shop for clients who may need to go between buildings to see different agencies and use their services,” Hall said.
While Child Advocacy is operating out of their new building, they’re not fully open to the public due to the pandemic. But once it’s safe to have more people in, she’s excited to share their new space with the community.
“We’re just so happy, and we’re so grateful to the community for helping us make this dream come true,” she said.