By Jan Lutz, Chapter Director
Sometime in the mid-1980s Mike Barnes was serving as Prosecutor in St. Joseph County. He was researching a way to handle child abuse cases in a more child-focused way. To help, he brought in the Junior League, a women’s civic organization that started in New York City in 1901 and has 291 Leagues in four countries. I joined the Junior League of South Bend, Inc. in 1989, which was around the time the League was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
As Leagues do, they went looking for a “big project” to commemorate 50 years of work around the South Bend area. Since most Leagues have a focus on women and children, it was then that everyone realized Mike’s needs and ideas plus our efforts would make a Child Advocacy Center a perfect “big project” in celebrating 50 years of community service.
Mike Barnes, who is now on the Indiana Court of Appeals, came to the League meeting and gave a presentation that I can still visualize today. He had this printout and it was long. A good five or six feet long back when computer paper was still connected together. There I sat not knowing anything about child abuse as he taped it up on the wall. As Mike spoke it was appalling to me that a child and family were subjected to so much, from the time of disclosure to the time of verdict and healing…being further traumatized by the very systems meant to protect them.
That’s when the League joined the Prosecutor’s Office and Memorial Hospital to form what would become the CASIE Center in 1993. It opened in 1994, the same year I became the League president. It was designed to handle about 250 children a year and we thought that would take care of the situation. In 2015 they served over 1,500 children.
We knew we were doing something meaningful together. Just as the CASIE Center was taking off my husband’s job in the auto industry moved us a little east to Fort Wayne. Luckily, the League allows members to transfer membership to new cities, so I did. And because Mike Barnes knows everyone, he said to the Prosecutor in Allen County, “We’re sending Jan Lutz to start a CAC in Fort Wayne.” I remember thinking I was the least-qualified person imaginable to do that, but Mike just said, “You’ll figure it out.” A while later a CAC was formed with the help of the Junior League of Fort Wayne, as a founding partner. The Dr. Bill Lewis Center for Children in Fort Wayne opened in 2000.
As was the case for us 20 years ago, my husband needed to move again, this time to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I transferred my League membership there and soon found myself as president. I didn’t start a CAC in Michigan, but in an odd twist I discovered my assistant there happened to be the sister of Carolyn Hahn, who was running the CASIE Center back over the border in South Bend.
A few years later we moved again. This time back to Indiana in 2003. Carolyn naturally thought we were moving back to South Bend, but we found ourselves in Indianapolis instead. Either way, it didn’t take long for Carolyn to come to me and say, “I have a project for you. Our CACs group is meeting in Indy and we’d like for you to come talk to us about CACs. You have six months to get settled in and I will call again.”
The CACs membership group wanted to strengthen their statewide organization for CACs. Little did I know that despite never having worked day-to-day in a CAC and never having any social services training, that call and subsequent discussion was my job interview. They asked on-the-spot that I become the founding Director of the Indiana Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance; that was in October 2004.
I was a Journalism and English major in college, which seemed totally unrelated to CACs, but I use that background every day now by assisting CACs in the arena of writing and managing grants, brochures, and other materials. It all just came together over the years. While we were working on the CASIE Center, Elkhart County just next door had launched what was the first CAC in Indiana and the seventh in the country. It was so early in the children’s advocacy center movement and we were all so new. We knew just enough to know what wasn’t working, but not necessarily what we were doing well. It was an adventure.
People always look back fondly at generations past. Nostalgia is always a powerful bit of selective memory for people, but our communities are better places when civic groups are empowered and strong. I made my career thanks to training received in the Junior League, like so many other women over generations. It saddens and concerns me to see the Junior League continue to lose membership, but it’s a trend that’s visible in many civic groups, not just the Junior League. All four Indiana Leagues helped establish the trend that would lead to the 24 CACs operating in Indiana today. Indiana and its children and families have benefited immensely from the passion of many in the early days of the children’s advocacy center movement.