Seated in the family waiting room of the Child Advocacy Center in the Redwood County courthouse in Redwood Falls Katie Selden and Stacy Gareis admired the new mural hanging on the wall. As they pointed out new discoveries, they expressed their appreciation of the mural’s artist, Dona Larkin.

Larkin, who was also sitting in the room, talked about the piece she painted and what she intended to portray in that piece. The woodland scene with birch trees, a lake in the background and lots of woodland creatures, presents a calming, soothing kind of feel to those who look at it. 

For Selden, that is exactly what she hoped it would do.

Selden, who coordinates the Child Advocacy Center program for Redwood County, said those who come to the center are facing a traumatic experience and so having a mural in the family waiting area can help to create that calming effect for them.

The Child Advocacy Center is still in its infancy, as it has been working with children for a couple of years, but in a short period of time word has gotten out and people are starting to use the center more often.

In fact, the center saw a dramatic increase in its use this past year in comparison to the previous year; during the 2015-16 year there were 13 children who were served by the center, while that number from 2016-17 climbed to 41 children all from Red-wood County.

“I love the look of the painting,” said Selden, adding to her it has the feel of a cove – a place of sanctuary and quiet.

The mural was made possible by a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council (SMAC), and Selden said once the request was approved this past spring she started working with Larkin on a plan for the center’s mural.

Selden said she got the idea for the mural from Eric Johnson, Redwood County restorative justice program coordinator, who had a mural painted in one of the rooms used by that program in the county courthouse.

“I was so impressed with that mural,” said Selden, adding she then started looking at the potential of putting one in the center as well.

While the restorative justice mural is much larger in scope, as it covers the walls of an entire room, the Child Advocacy Center mural is smaller and was painted on three 3’x6’ canvas panels that were than hung on the wall. The mural panels are capable of being moved intentionally, said Selden, adding that way as the program grows and may need to move to a larger space she can take the mural with her.

“I just couldn’t imagine having to leave it behind,” said Selden.

The Redwood County Child Advocacy Center is a grant-based program with funds coming in from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the Otto Bremer Foundation and the United Way, said Selden, adding the grant for the mural just adds so much value to the center and its program.

Larkin said she used acrylic paint for the mural, adding she took a trip to Grand Marais to get some inspiration for the outdoor scene.

“I took a walk around and took a lot of pictures,” said Larkin.

Larkin said her artwork has opened a lot of doors for her and broadened her horizons.

“I have learned so much about what the Child Advocacy Center does just by painting this mural,” Larkin said.

The center has seen enough success that it was able to add Stacy Gareis to the staff. She serves as a forensic interviewer for the program, and her role was also made possible by a grant.

Selden added the scope of the Child Advocacy Center is regional in its nature, adding Yellow Medicine County recently agreed to start using the center for some of its child advocacy cases as well.

According to Selden, the program is successful because of the support and guidance she has received from other programs and people in the county, including local law enforcement and human services.

“Our community partners have been great,” said Selden. “We would not be where we are today without all of their support.”

The Child Advocacy Center is about helping victims and their families to become whole again following a traumatic incident in the life of a child.

“We are here to help give power and a voice back to the children,” said Selden.

Selden added she also has experienced strong support and resource information from the New Horizons Crisis Center, the Women’s Rural Advocacy Pro-gram (WRAP) and the Minnesota Indigenous Women’s Society.

Working together with those programs has helped to open new doors for those who are victims and are coming to the center for help.

Selden said the Child Advocacy Center continues to grow, and she is working with her board to develop a long-term strategic plan that will help the program expand into other parts of the region to make it an asset for all who need its services.