Chris Ramey, former district president of The Exchange Club, challenged Union students to join hands with the local Child Abuse Prevention Center Monday night.
Middle-aged men in sweater vests greeted incoming students with solemn and professional smiles. Young men, clean-cut and in button-downs, wore the same solemn expression as the older men while others slouched in the back row bent over their phones. As pizza was brought in, one of the well-dressed men stepped up to the podium to welcome us over the quiet hum of chewing noises.
Ramey spoke about his involvement with The Exchange Club: a national, service-minded, nonprofit institution that works to better communities by supporting local programs. Their national project is the Prevention of Child Abuse, and throughout the years they have deeply impacted local communities. The local branch extended an invitation to Union University to join them in their efforts. Since 1769, The Exchange Club has helped more than 1.7 million children across America.
“We have a moral obligation to stand up for children,” Ramey said. “Our mission is to train people in the community to identify signs of abuse in children. Often the signs are there but nobody bothers to ask.”
The Exchange Club estimates that one in 10 children suffer from sexual abuse across America, and statistics show there are over 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America today.
The Exchange Club partners with the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Jackson, which was established and funded by the local legend, a victim of abuse at the hand of an alcoholic father. The Center provides free prenatal care for pregnant mothers who have left an abusive partner, free therapy for children and wives and seeks to prosecute perpetrators of abuse. In the field outside the facility, hundreds of flags commemorate and honor children who have died in Jackson as a result of abuse.
The Exchange Club’s main vision is to support the local child abuse prevention center in whatever way possible. In the last year alone, the Center has helped more then 4,000 children from the local community, and other organizations have worked in an attempt to raise funds for these children.
As of yet, The Exchange Club has been unable to put down roots in Jackson and looks to Union University’s support as a platform to establish themselves locally. A nonprofit, professional institution, The Exchange Club has only recently extended the invitation for college-age students to participate.
“Only six colleges have gotten on board with our efforts across the country,” Ramey said. “Of these six, three of them have been small private institutions. We want the first Exchange Club in the State of Tennessee to be at Union University, and we are waiting for your feedback.”
Political Science Professor Greg Ryan is the president of The Exchange Club on campus and has brought on board students Thomas Wilson and Eddie Echeverria.
“We will be taking students to tour the CAP facilities this Friday and next,” Wilson said. “For those of you who are wondering how you can get on board, April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and we are doing everything we can to raise as much money as we can. If you have ideas bring them to us and we will get behind you.”
Wilson and Echeverria are coordinating Union’s first fundraiser in support of the local Center: a goldfish race. Each participant will pay fee of $15 to race his or her fish by squirting a squirt gun behind the fish to scare it into swimming. Participants will be allowed to keep their golden friends.
“We will be putting on this event as soon as possible,” Wilson said. “Just so we can get things started.”
Although only 26 people were in the room on Monday night, they expressed the hope that Union will become the seventh university to undertake the responsibility and the privilege of standing up for children.
“In every district that has a CAP, prosecution rates go up by 88 percent,” Wilson said. “That’s an 88 percent of people who, in other places, are getting away with this.”
Every thousand dollars raised translates into a child’s life that is turned around through hours of care and therapy, and Ramey said contributers are helping take perpetrators of abuse off the street simply by participating.
“We cannot undo what has happened to these children,” Ramey said. “But we can help to make them whole again.”