Brooke Nettz and the Big Intolerance

REGION – It's unlikely kids could find a better friend than Brooke Nettz. Or a more ambitious one.

Nettz, the director of the Children's Advocacy Center, has made it her goal to eliminate child abuse – not just to reduce, but to end it completely.

"My goal is to end child abuse in this area," she says flatly. "I believe we can do that."

An ambitious goal, to be sure, but she believes that to get big results you need to have big ideas.

Part of that involves bringing the problem out into the open. Nettz believes that keeping the problem out of polite society is a recipe for inviting more abuse.

"How do we as a community keep children safe? Zero tolerance," she says, adding that her conviction lies in her passion.

"I love kids," she says. "We connect really well. That put the seed there."

Attorney Shelley Kester chairs the board, bringing her family law background into play. She says that Nettz has made the center grow by leaps and bounds, far beyond the pace they were even hoping for.

"She's really good with different cultures," says Kester. "I travel around the community, and it's clear the CAC cares. That's a reflection of Brooke and her staff."

When the CAC was getting started – it opened its doors on April 5, 2010 – those connected with it knew it was imperative to find the right person to head it up. Denise Busley of the Grand Traverse Pie Company, who has been a key figure in the CAC since its beginning, says they found exactly the right person in Nettz.

"She's full of passion and a visionary," says Busley. "Here was this perky young girl, and it was just amazing."

For her part, Nettz said the challenge of building a Children's Advocacy Center from the ground up intrigued her.

She had been working at a CAC in Illinois when she found out about the opening here. Unlike so many others who have moved to the area after vacationing here, she wasn't familiar with the Grand Traverse area.

But that didn't deter her, and she's now becoming a vital part of the community as she strives to integrate the many facets and disciplines who interact with abused children.

Part of that comes from her training as a forensic interviewer. A forensic interviewer is trained in interviewing children to both make them feel comfortable and safe and also elicit all the information needed for arrests and prosecution of those who abused them.

Nettz says that is particularly necessary when push comes to shove, because when traumatized kids who are put through multiple interviews with various facets of law enforcement, social work, medical professionals and the like, their stories are likely to change subtly. Those inconsistencies can have a hugely detrimental impact in judicial proceedings.

Now Nettz has another forensic interviewer on staff, as well as an intake coordinator, family advocate, clinical coordinator, and four interns. Together they provide the foundation for assisting abused children.

But Nettz makes it clear that treating those kids isn't enough. As Kester puts it, "her goal is to work herself out of a job."

Likely, that won't be happening any time soon. It's only been 15 months since Nettz has been at the CAC, and already the Midwest Regional Advocacy Center has sat up and taken notice. They recently named her a "Center Star" of the Midwest region.

The Children's Advocacy Center is entirely supported by private grants and donations. Busley, for example, participated in the SwingShift and the Stars dance program to raise money for the CAC. Styled after the hit television show Dancing with the Stars, the event raised over $70,000 for the Center.

Upcoming is the first Circle of Friends luncheon on Thursday, September 15, at noon at the Hagerty Center. The luncheon features speaker Maxine Lauer, a victim of childhood sexual abuse herself. She is now CEO of Sphere Trending, a consumer and design trend intelligence firm.

The cost is $450 for a table of eight and includes membership in the Circle. Individual tickets are $100 for a Circle of Friends membership and $50 for a luncheon ticket.

Interested in working with the CAC? Contact the organization at 929-4250 or go online to BN