Child safety center hosts day of remembrance, offers hope for the future
The Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center on Oak Street in Brainerd provides a safe place for child exchanges between parents and supervised parental visits.
BRAINERD — With sun breaking through the clouds but a hint of rain lingering in the air, a few dozen people gathered in the garden of the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center in Brainerd to bring awareness to domestic violence.
The hellos and greetings were quickly hushed May 13 as the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center welcomed everyone in the warm grasp of sunshine to the garden of the safety center for its annual garden ceremony in recognition of the importance of the services offered at both centers.
An arm of the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center, the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center on Oak Street in Brainerd provides a safe place for child exchanges between parents and supervised parental visits.
The name comes from 5- and 4-year-old brothers Alex and Brandon Frank, who were murdered by their father in 1996 during an unsupervised visit.
With more than 1,500 individuals receiving services each year at the center, resources are needed now more than ever, said Shannon Wussow, executive director of the Mid-Minnesota Women's Center.
“I just want to share that May is National Supervised Visitation Awareness Month,” Wussow said. “And that's initially what this event was supposed to be about. But given the circumstances that have taken place in our community, we would be absolutely remiss to pretend like those didn't happen.”
With the recent murder of 43-year-old Lynnie Loucks in rural Brainerd weighing heavy on everyone's minds, Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard wanted to share a positive story with everyone, to remind them of the usefulness of those facilities and support programs set up to help those in need.
“A number of years ago, I was still working nights and there was a constant domestic situation between a husband and wife,” Goddard said. “It came to a head when the female was run off the road. And it was a situation where I knew what happened, she knew what happened, but proving it was something else. She was a high school friend of mine and we had a heart-to-heart conversation and I said, ‘Now this is only going to get worse. … You need to find a different life.’”
About a year ago Goddard ran into her, now remarried with kids and a life, and she thanked him.
“I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it but it was my one true success that will last me forever,” Goddard said.
Building relationships in the community is needed and having these systems in place plays a key role in providing assistance to the community, said Brainerd Deputy Police Chief John Davis.
“I just want to take a brief moment to talk about the collaboration our departments have with the women's center and the Alex and Brandon center,” Davis said. “When we get called to a domestic incident, our time with the victim or the family is relatively short. But after that short amount of time is really, I think, where the work and the support are needed. And that's really where these individuals come into play.”
After law enforcement encounters a domestic situation, they often refer family members to advocates and let them know of the resources available to them.
“(Survivors) are flooded with questions,” Davis said. “They are flooded with the insecurities, feelings of maybe losing their support, maybe losing the one that's paying the rent. It is just so helpful for us to be able to tell a family, to tell a victim that these questions that you have, these concerns that you have, they're natural, they're OK, and I'm going to put you in touch with someone that can guide you through every step of the process.”
Tammy Ebertowski used those resources herself years ago. Now she is a 25-year women’s center volunteer working to provide others with the opportunity to find safety and comfort in their communities. Ebertowski helped organize the remembrance event.
“I keep hearing people say that, ‘It's too close to home, it's too close to home,’” Wussow said. “That's not true. It is at our home. It is happening right here.”
The Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center offers an emergency shelter for those experiencing domestic violence. The shelter also provides personal advocacy, information and referral services, criminal justice and legal advocacy, support groups and community education.
Mid-Minnesota Women's Center staff is available 24/7 at 218-828-1216.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 in over 200 languages at 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.