Public invited to see new child resiliency center in repurposed 5th Street Elementary

The connections between the safety and love that children find in a school and the services that will continue in Fifth Street Elementary aren’t lost on Tammy Lampert.

Lampert is the executive director of the Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition (SWICACC), an organization designed to assist investigators with forensic interviews of children involved in cases of neglect or abuse.

Many times in the heartbreaking interviews she conducts, teachers and schools are the young victims’ connections to safety and security.

“This place has been a safe space for kids since the 50s,” Lampert pointed out. “And now it will continue to serve as a safe place for kids.”

On Thursday, SWICACC will celebrate the creation of a children’s resiliency center in the former elementary school.

Fifth Street Elementary was originally built in the 50s and then added to in 1991. When the new Jasper Elementary School opened, the corporation sold SWICACC the building for a dollar in a show of support for the organization’s goals. Now, the oldest portions of the building have been razed and a new parking lot added, and the remaining 30,000 square feet have been renovated into a center set to give SWICACC a central location as well as provide space for a myriad of services aimed at helping at-risk children.

Dubbed Center on 5th, the resiliency center will expand SWICACC’s work bringing together non-profits, mental health and medical services, advocacy, and investigators to wrap services around children who have been victims of child maltreatment and their families. 

A special playroom outfitted by a Dubois County Leadership Academy group is still being prepared for when the center opens.

SWICACC hasn’t had a centralized office since being founded in 2009. Lampert typically operates out of her home office, one of the satellite locations or even in her car. While the organization has three locations across the seven-county footprint it serves that includes Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Martin, Orange, Perry, and Spencer counties, Center on 5th is finally providing a much-needed space. In addition to giving Lampert an office, the repurposed school will enable SWICACC to expand services and staff, add programming, include onsite treatment for mental health and medical forensic exams, as well as create a training facility for investigators, youth workers and the community.

Locally, SWICACC has historically conducted interviews in a house in Jasper that has a single interview room made up to seem like a child’s bedroom, an observation room the multidiscipline team could crowd into, and a waiting room and attached playroom. It could get crowded quickly and interviews had to be spaced out over longer periods of time.

The new center has four new interview rooms that are attached by audio and video feeds to multiple nearby observation rooms. Multiple teams can take part in multiple interviews at the same time, a sad fact of the amount of child cases SWICACC is involved in annually. The organization provided services for 324 children — 116 in Dubois County — in 2021.

One of four interview rooms that have been created allowing for Multidisciplinary Teams to view the interviews remotely in nearby observation rooms.

Lampert is more upbeat about what the central location offers in its totality. In addition to the interview and observation rooms, there are new family-oriented waiting rooms and a new medical office to provide any needed medical examinations for victims.

As the rooms fill with the services she would like to see added, Lampert envisions the facility removing the drawn-out aspect of the processes involved in these investigations. Victims won’t have to schedule multiple appointments over an extended period of time.

“This is huge,” Lampert explained. “If we get kiddos and then we refer them to another service say for mental health and it is in a completely different location; the brain doesn’t make the connection that they can talk about that (trauma) there because it is a different place.”

But providing the services in the same building can help victims begin to experience healing more quickly and without having repeated trauma experiences over a longer period of time.

Currently, Mentors for Youth is the only service group moving into the space but the excitement is building among the many organizations in Dubois County as well as across the state of what this new centralized location can provide.

A sign at the Center points to a potential office for a community organization.

Lampert envisions family-movie nights for foster children and their caregivers in the nearly complete auditorium. Or training events with national organizations hosted in the new large training rooms in the upstairs areas. Additional training for investigators with a furnished mock apartment. Remote workspaces with connectivity and other services for state and national services working in Southern Indiana.

Center on 5th also provides a face for the public to see SWICACC in the community in which it serves. “I think awareness of who we are and what we provide is going to increase,” Lampert said.

It is one of the reasons she will open the doors up to the public Thursday afternoon from 5 to 8 p.m. for their first open house. She wants to let people know what they are doing to protect and help children. She hasn’t been able to do an open house at any of the group’s other facilities but with the Center not being open yet, Lampert has an opportunity to highlight what has been achieved and been made available for the community. She will also be able to recognize the many donors that made it possible.

“Thank you to our donors that have helped us get this far. Without the support from donors who have already stepped up, we would not have been able to make this dream a reality,” said Lampert. “These donors not only helped us with the building, they are helping build safer communities and make children safer.”

Seufert Construction, the General Contractor, performed the design and construction of the space with assistance from many local service providers. 

“It has been a privilege to assist not only with the restoration of this historic building in Jasper but also providing SWICACC with a safe space to operate and grow in Southern Indiana,” Suefert Construction partner Kyle Chase said. “Everyone involved was very thoughtful of the critically important services SWICACC provides and we are proud of our crew, subcontractors and suppliers to be able to provide a comfortable and safe place for SWICACC to call home.”

Though operations at Center on 5th will begin in the near future, there is still work to be done,” Lampert said. “Our capital campaign is 85 percent complete, but we still need community donors to finalize the project.”

If you are interested in contributing, please contact Lampert via email at swicacc@gmail.com or by phone at 812-559-0490.

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