JACKSON — Several years ago, charitable gaming organizations in Mississippi were making headlines for embezzlement, theft, affairs, indictments and convictions.
The Mississippi Committee For Prevention of Child Abuse Inc., established Oct. 11, 1984, was among them. The registered charity with gaming operations in Mississippi had experienced its share of woes and was losing money when interim director Floy Graves took control in October 2000. Six months later, after the charity turned a profit, she was asked to stay in the position permanently.
“In the last couple of years, the Mississippi Committee For Prevention of Child Abuse has done well under Floy’s leadership,” said Doug Tyrone, director for the charitable gaming division of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. “If it wasn’t for revenue from charitable gaming organizations like this one, many vital programs in Mississippi wouldn’t be funded.”
In fiscal year 2001, total gross proceeds from bingo operations in Mississippi were $133.2 million. Gross bingo revenue for Brandon-based MCPCA from its bingo hall in Corinth was $4.08 million with prizes of $3 million.
“When I came in, we were $108,000 in the hole with just a little bit in reserve,” said Graves. “It was a struggle to turn a profit. We cut expenses on almost everything except funding programs. At the end of the next fiscal year, we had to make some choices.
“We realigned the committee to provide services more in line with our purpose: providing educational materials and protection for neglected children. Unfortunately, I had to drop several programs. Before, MCPCA had primarily been a funneling agency with multiple expenses. We kept a couple of older programs and developed several in-house programs. We continued to partially fund two shelters. Without tri-state bingo and this funding, it would be very difficult for these shelters to remain open.”
MCPCA partially funds the Natchez Children’s Home and the Alcorn County Human Resource Agency, administrator of the Northeast Mississippi Emergency Shelter. It funds CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in Lee County, a program that provides a voice for children in court proceedings, and distributes the Children’s Law Reference Book annually to judges, social workers, advocates and others, which includes up to date information on laws and regulations relating to children’s services. The cost of the books, roughly $20,000, was offset by a $10,000 grant from The Mississippi Bar last year.
“A new no-questions-asked law went into effect July 1, 2001, in Mississippi where babies can be taken to a medical service provider within 72 hours of birth,” said Graves. “Some of these people have been so desperate, they didn’t know what to do. Already, six babies have been saved in Mississippi.”
MCPCA funds a first offender program for juvenile delinquents ages 10 to 17. Surprisingly, the ratio between males and females is almost equal, Graves said.
“It’s a very intense six-week course and is one of the best tools for the prevention of future crimes,” said Graves. “We have a wonderful man who puts first offenders through a boot camp of sorts to readjust their thinking and assume responsibility. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s had an 85% success rate. I guess the Lord’s helping him.”
Sweet Dreams, an in-house program Graves created, provides children that have just been removed from dangerous situations with essentials — a toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush and comb, undergarments, socks, a couple of T-shirts to sleep in and a “snuggie.” Shelters, foster parents and others have a hotline to MCPCA.
“When children, especially small ones, are moved quickly, you can imagine the emotion,” she said. “There’s no time to grab a favorite teddy. A lot of times, these kids are brought out in only a diaper. I’ll never forget one little boy after he got his goodie bag. He held a snuggie in one hand and a toothbrush in another. I don’t think he’d ever had a toothbrush.”
MCPCA distributes Smart Parenting educational material featuring local and national child abuse hotline numbers free of charge. Pamphlets with topics ranging from “Protect Your Child From Violence” to “Bully-Proof Your Child” are distributed through volunteer groups, PTAs, churches, clubs, educators and professionals to libraries and other community venues.
“We have to sometimes be creative in our distribution,” she said. “When we’re on the road, we’ll drop some leaflets in ladies bathrooms because we know it might be difficult to pick up a brochure about how not to abuse your children when a lot of people are around.”
The committee’s statewide education outreach program includes talking to children, usually K-2, in schools that will allow it, Graves said.
“One of the biggest hurdles is getting people to admit there is abuse, whether it’s sexual, emotional or neglect,” she said. “We provide coloring books about ‘good touch/bad touch’ and talk to children about ways to protect themselves. I don’t want to scare children or make them paranoid, but I want them to be aware of their surroundings and their rights. Children don’t lie about abuse.”
Graves became a victims’ advocate, later focusing on child abuse, after her sister, Betty Bonds, was murdered by her husband.
“I survived domestic violence and my little sister didn’t,” Graves said. “And it’s really sad. When the trial for Vernon Dahmer’s murderer was held, someone asked my opinion. I said it’s taken a generation for it to be illegal for a white man to kill a black man. Will it take another generation for it to be illegal for men to kill women and children? I’ve sat through many trials where children aren’t really thought of as people.”
On April 5, Graves was a special guest when Gov. Ronnie Musgrove proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Crime Victims Rights Week will be recognized the last week of April.
“As the father of two children, I know there is nothing more precious than our young people,” he said. “They are our most wonderful natural resource and are most deserving of our strongest commitment to their future.
“In my State of the State address, I outlined four priorities for Mississippi — jobs, education, healthcare and public safety. These priorities affect all Mississippians, but none more so than our children. We`ve made great progress and found common ground to make these priorities into realities — and that`s something for us to be proud of.”
MCPCA also promotes public awareness through radio and TV public service broadcasts, lobbies for legal policies that protect children from abuse and neglect and provides a comprehensive support system for families and children in Mississippi.
“Floy’s done a tremendous job of building back the charity,” said John Mooney Jr. of Jackson, attorney for the charity since October 2000. “She’s a very sharp businesswoman and her heart and soul are dedicated to the prevention of child abuse.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or firstname.lastname@example.org</a.