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Staff members with the Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center based in Southaven, including Executive Director Sally Williams (far right) gathered for lunch at the Olive Branch Jersey Mike’s sub shop at noon Wednesday. As part of the national Day of Giving by the franchise, the entire day’s proceeds from the local store were donated to the center.  

Going out for lunch at a DeSoto County sandwich shop Wednesday meant more than just eating out. Hungry customers were aiding a local agency dealing with victims of abuse while also satisfying their own appetites. 

Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center, based in Southaven, benefited in a unique way by the Jersey Mike’s location in Olive Branch.

As part of the national franchise’s Day of Giving throughout its locations, the Olive Branch store at 6518 Goodman Road chose Healing Hearts as its beneficiary. All proceeds earned in sales Wednesday at the Olive Branch shop were donated to go to Healing Hearts.

Each Jersey Mike’s location was able to identify a nonprofit to support, not just Wednesday, but in a month-long program during March where customers were able to make donations to the center each time they visited.

Sally Williams is the executive director for Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center and said the support the center received was “amazing.”

“When you say 100 percent of proceeds are going to the Child Advocacy Center, that doesn’t happen very often,” Williams said. “There’s 1,800 Jersey Mikes in the country and they buy into the fact that there are local charities that they’re helping. All month Healing Hearts information has been out there, we did a training with their staff beforehand to let them know what it is they are talking about.”

DeSoto County will visually learn about the number of children Healing Hearts supports during the month of April, when pinwheels will be placed at a number of locations throughout the county.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and during the month of April, “gardens” of pinwheels totaling 503 will grace busy street corners and elsewhere in DeSoto and Tate counties, the areas served by Healing Hearts.

The number indicates the number of children who received services through Healing Hearts in the past year.

“Those are to bring awareness to the fact that there is child abuse and neglect going on in our county and we do need to respond to that with a positive and proactive approach,” Williams said.

Healing Hearts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, responds to child victims of abuse and neglect by giving them proper services that they need.

“That starts with interviews, family advocacy services, mental health and medical services,” said Williams. “We work with a team of individuals and groups throughout the county that include medical providers, therapists, law enforcement and prosecutors. They all come together as a team and child protection services is part of that team.”

Williams said the team gathers when a case of abuse or neglect is reported to determine the next step needed and assure that services are provided. Most of the services are without a cost to the family.

Healing Hearts remains busy in its work, said Darlene Cunningham, who serves as Family Advocacy Supervisor/Outreach Coordinator for the center.

“The 503 cases the past year has gone up from 200 our first year in 2013,” Cunningham said. “The cases were there, but it’s just that there is more awareness now and the children are receiving services. From the awareness and the education and the team working together makes for processing more cases and children getting services.”

Williams pointed out DeSoto and Tate counties are fortunate in that it has one of just 11 centers of its type in the state of Mississippi to assist youngsters who have not felt the love and care they deserve.

“We say at Healing Hearts that we’re there to give the bravest children we know in DeSoto and Tate counties a voice,” said Williams. “The hardest thing is for them to know they are believed and they are not alone.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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