Bloomfield Township resident Cathy Weissenborn has been involved
with child advocacy efforts in the metro Detroit area for two decades, making it nearly a full-time job since retiring as a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Weissenborn serves on the board of directors at CARE House of Oakland County, the board at Detroit's Cristo Rey High School and the Brother Rice High School Board of Directors. She has also served as interim executive director for CARE House, a non-profit, children's advocacy center in Pontiac that focuses on identifying and treating child abuse victims and child abuse prevention.
"It has been around since the late 1970s as a child abuse prevention council. In the late 1980s, it became the Child Advocacy Center of Oakland County," she said. "Where there is an allegation of abuse, and most of what they deal with is sexual abuse, they will do a forensic interview with the child. It's done in a very child-centric way to discuss something that may be uncomfortable to talk about."
By conducting such interviews with a child advocate and allowing law enforcement and a prosecutor to watch behind a two-way mirror, the process minimizes the number of times a child must retell their issue.
"Every time that child has to talk about it, it's almost like reliving that trauma," Weissenborn explained.
CARE House also provides therapy for kids, as well as other programs, including Early Head Start, intervention and treatment, prevention programs, a parent curriculum group, and other programs.
"It really is an amazing organization in terms of what they deal with, what they hear about and the difference they are able to make in terms of the healing that takes place with these kids and their families," Weissenborn said. "I got introduced to it in the late 1990s. Really, I was still working at the time in public accounting, but a friend of mine was a board chair and said they needed a treasurer. I thought it was time to get off the bench."
In 2008, Weissenborn worked on the organization's capital campaign, leading to the acquisition of a new building, allowing for program expansion. Since the late 1990s, the staff has grown from about 20 to more than 30.
"That has given the opportunity to expand therapy programs and group programs," she said. "There is a lot of community meeting space for a lot of prevention programs. In the end, that's the key."
Likewise, Detroit Cristo Rey High School offers educational opportunities to kids who might otherwise not have the option for a high quality education. The school is a co-ed, Catholic high school that provides a college preparatory education to students from economically disadvantaged families in Detroit.
"It's a different kind of model for educating low income kids," Weissenborn said. "It's designed around this Cristo Rey model that says the kids will contribute to their education through a work-study program. They have extended school days for four days, and on the fifth day they have a job, and that pays most of their tuition."
With the average tuition at the school about $35,000 a year, Weissenborn said students receive an education similar to that which would be offered by Brother Rice or other private schools. The program also teaches life and job skills, giving students an advantage in the workforce.
"A friend introduced me to Cristo Rey, and I thought, 'The only way to change the trajectory of the city is to change education for these kids,'" she said. "I'm really excited about that. I think education is critical."
Photo: Laurie Tennent