Editor’s Note: This story contains references to child sexual abuse and sexual assault.
IONIA – An annual luncheon recognized those who support child abuse victims in Ionia and Montcalm counties, while raising funds and awareness.
The Ionia Montcalm Secure and Friendly Environment Child Advocacy Center (IM SAFE CAC) hosted its 2022 Champions for Children Luncheon on April 28 at the Ionia County Intermediate School District, 2191 Harwood Road, Ionia. The program was also available on the IM SAFE CAC Facebook page.
The mission of the IM SAFE CAC “is to protect children by providing multidisciplinary investigation, assessment and treatment of child abuse in a child-friendly, supportive and safe environment,” according to its website.
Anyone wishing to donate money to support CAC IM SAFE can visit their website: imsafecac.org. It costs $1,250 to provide a forensic interview, medical examination and therapy for just one child.
Ashley Kliewer won the IM SAFE CAC Champions for Children Community Member of the Year award. Kliewer is the Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative (MYOI) coordinator for the Ionia and Montcalm Department of Health and Human Services. She also sits on the Ionia Council Against Abuse and Neglect and the We Care for Kids Council. She also donated several items for Alfred’s Care Closet, which helps children at CAC IM SAFE.
Kliewer’s father retired from law enforcement in County Ionia. She said her service inspired her to pursue her career. Kliewer said people who work with abused children need to keep coming forward.
“That’s what’s going to make the difference in the work that we do,” Kliewer said.
Det. Chad Aniszko of the Greenville Department of Public Safety was named the Champions for Children Multidisciplinary Team Member of the Year. Aniszko has been part of CAC IM SAFE since it opened in 2015. He participates in forensic interviews and sits on the case review committee. Aniszko is known for his caring attitude when he meets the children who come to the center.
Aniszko said he has been to other child advocacy centers in the state and thinks IM SAFE CAC is the best.
“They make you feel like family,” he said.
Jim Lóser was named Champions for Children Board Member of the Year. Lóser, who won the award in 2021, is the longest-serving IM SAFE CAC executive committee member and volunteer. He is secretary of the board of directors of the CAC. Lóser also supports ISD County Ionia special education students and leads the county’s trauma group.
Lóser said he was grateful to be a member of the IM SAFE CAC board.
“I believe in what we are doing here,” he said.
Margaret Hoelzer, a two-time Olympic swimmer, was the keynote speaker for the event. Hoelzer said she was sexually abused from age 5 to 7 by her friend’s father. Hoelzer told his mother about the abuse years later before going to a child advocacy center in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama.
Hoelzer said her abuser asked her not to talk about the abuse. She noted how easy it is for abusers to keep children away from people and gain their trust. Hoelzer encouraged abuse survivors to tell their stories.
“So many of us care and want to help,” she said.