Light Up for Kids

The 2020 Ignite Luncheon will focus on children, with food, fellowship and a fundraiser to benefit Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection.

An outdoor climbing wall, swings and slides, picnic tables, and the soothing sound of a water feature. Such is the latest plan for Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection’s future outdoor therapeutic play area. Executive Director Dawn Westgate of the local advocacy service for kids who have been victims of abuse and neglect says it will help ease the trauma the children experience while they are waiting for a foster bed or other services.

But, such a project comes with a huge price tag—about $200,000—says Westgate.

A donation toward this goal will come from the 2020 Ignite Luncheon on March 12th. In previous years, the event raised funds for the Ocala Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Center. Ignite members recently decided to open up the fundraiser to other agencies that deal with domestic situations, starting with Kimberly’s Center.

“Unfortunately, child abuse is something that is very real. It happens across the country and also here in Marion County,” Westgate explains, acknowledging that what happens once children enter the system can be isolating and confusing. “Kids go to school and they think it’s going to be a normal day, and then they decide to disclose that something is happening in their home.”

Children who are brought to Kimberly’s Center generally begin their first session within hours of telling someone what has happened. They meet with law enforcement and have a medical exam. For them, it’s like getting caught up in a whirlwind.

“The play area is about restoring normalcy to their childhood, to be outside and to be able to play like kids who haven’t suffered a trauma,” Westgate shares. “There are so many organizations in Marion County that do tremendous work, to be chosen by them is fantastic. It’s an honor that Ignite chose us for the benefit this year.”

Ignite was founded in 2016 by Jeanne Henningsen, who rallied local professional women in response to the growing need for services for women and children in abusive situations. Henningsen had a personal reason for creating the fundraiser.

“My first marriage was abusive, but I had resources,” Henningsen says. “Not only did I have a full-time job and could support myself, but I also had family that I could go to. What got my attention was when I heard the domestic violence center was turning women and children away, because they didn’t have enough beds, and I thought, ‘That could have been me looking for a bed and a shelter.’”

During the first three fundraisers, Ignite raised enough funds to purchase 38 beds. According to Henningsen, the budget also helps to meet some critical care needs for women who need to leave an abusive situation in a hurry.

“A lot of times they don’t even pack a suitcase,” she shares. “They are fleeing for their lives and they end up with very little.”

After touring Kimberly’s Center and being impressed by the strong leadership of Westgate and Development Director Niki Tripodi, Henningsen notes, the Ignite team was committed to their decision to help these children who are either being abused physically or sexually, or have witnessed someone else being abused.

“Dawn and Niki were amazing and really made us feel good about our choice,” Henningsen adds.

Henningsen chaired the first two fundraisers and then handed the baton to other members. “I am still very involved with the planning but believe having new leadership is healthy for the growth and development of our team,” she explains.

This year’s chair is Manal Fakhoury. The program will include a silent auction, jewelry raffle, testimonials, and a history of both Ignite and Kimberly’s Center. Fakhoury says the target is to raise $50,000.

“We found we were getting a lot of requests to help children, and the right path was to refer them to Kimberly’s Center,” Fakhoury notes. “It became evident this was a group we needed to help. I think it’ll be a nice, meaningful event, where people can connect with each other and see the value of making a difference in the community. We can learn to resolve conflict and not have violence. We can have a more peaceful community and a more peaceful world.”

Future fundraisers for Kimberly’s Center include the 5K Race Against Child Abuse on April 25th. Check the center’s Facebook page for more ways to help or make a donation. Tours of the facility are available by making a reservation with Tripodi.

About the Event

Event Name: Ignite Luncheon 2020
Date: Thursday, March 12
Time: 11:30am-1pm
Place: College of Central Florida Ewers Century Center, 3001 SW College Road
To Attend: Advance registration is required. For more information, email info@igniteforocala.com

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