The McDowell County Children’s Advocacy Center now has a new name for the facility. Formerly known as the Gingerbread House, the center will now be called Lily’s Place in memory of 20-month-old Lily Kerr, whose life ended tragically in 2012.
Nothing has changed but the name of the center, except now the house has Lily’s memory to encourage its mission.
“It is a very proud moment for us to rename this facility Lily’s Place and to honor Lily’s memory,” said Chris Jernigan, executive director of Southmountain Children & Family Services. “It feels so good to be able to say that Lily is helping us move forward.”
As a program of Southmountain, Lily’s Place will still serve the children of McDowell County as a safe haven for victims of child abuse. The non-profit works with law enforcement, child protective services and the district attorney’s office in investigations involving sexual and physical abuse or is witness to a violent crime.
“We wanted to change the name and put a face to our CAC,” said director, Rhonda Robbins. “We believe that having a face there makes it a little more personal for our community.”
Last Tuesday, an official renaming of the Gingerbread House to Lily’s Place was held at the center, with Kerr’s family, state and local officials, law enforcement and child advocates in attendance.
District Attorney Brad Greenway, Rep. Josh Dobson, former director Kathy Purvis of N.C. Children Advocacy Centers and western regional liaison for Sen. Kay Hagan, Freddie Harrell, spoke to the crowd about the importance of Lily’s Place.
Purvis said that North Carolina was a Tier One state, meaning it is one of the top five states in the country with the most child advocacy centers. There are currently 34 centers in North Carolina.
“Thank you for caring more about a child than you do for yourself,” Purvis said to the crowd in front of Lily’s Place. “When we quit being emotional about it, it’s time to not do this work anymore.”
Before becoming D.A., Greenway was a child protective services attorney for about 20 years.
“As I look at this house, how I wish there was no need for such a place in McDowell County, but the tragedy of child abuse is a very real presence in our community,” Greenway said. “Lily Kerr was a beautiful young girl and I’m saddened that her life ended in such a tragic fashion, but I am glad that Lily’s Place is here and will be a constant memory and her name will be with us always.”
Harrell, who was there on behalf of Hagan, said that the senator had recently signed a letter urging the senate to maintain funding to victims of child abuse through 2015, which will serve almost 800 centers nationwide.
“Though the tragic loss of Lily still weighs heavy on our hearts, today’s celebration is a fitting memorial of her life and a reminder that together we can build a brighter future for our children in our communities,” Harrell said at the gathering. “Child abuse continues to plague the most innocent and the defenseless people in our country. It is our hope that Lily’s Place will be a center for action, advocacy, and healing for the victims of child abuse.”
Dobson spoke passionately about the efforts of the state legislature increasing penalties on child abusers in N.C., and he asked local people to become involved with the CAC.
“We will continue to promote policies in N.C. that make it clear that if you abuse a child in this state, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And the individuals here have done so much to make sure that Lily’s life was not in vain, and that her short life counted for something,” Dobson said. “We are going to do all we can at the state level to make sure we can do all we can in McDowell County to end child abuse.”
Lily’s father, James Kerr, and grandmother Donna Kerr, from Florida, were also present at the event. Her father said it was a lot of take in but he is glad the house helps other children.
“It’s making some good out of a really tragic situation. (Child abuse) needs to stop,” said Donna. “We have a memory box for the other grandchildren to have when they get older so they don’t forget Lily.”
Ann Lombardi, Kerr’s grandmother in McDowell, has fought hard for the CAC since her granddaughter passed. She started an organization called Flowers for Lily, with all the proceeds going back to Lily’s Place. Lombardi recently donated flowers and stepping stone kits to 14 schools in McDowell County to plant gardens in memory of Lily.
“Our family would like to thank everyone for coming and we are very honored that they are renaming the Gingerbread House Lily’s Place. It is our hope that through Lily and her story that we might be able to save another child, and that another family will not have to go through what we are going through,” said Lombardi. “We miss Lily terribly and her spirit is always with us and now it is with Lily’s Place.”
Lily’s Place is located at 378 South Main Street in Marion. For more information on child abuse and how to donate to this organization, you can call 659-5565, or visit Flowers for Lily on Facebook.