A place to heal: Emma’s House celebrates new location with grand opening

RAVALLI REPUBLIC - MICHELLE MCCONNAHA

“Val Widmer is a miracle worker and a hero,” said Governor Steve Bullock before cutting the ribbon at the Emma’s House Grand Opening Celebration on Friday. “This community and this house has taught me so much.”

He credited the children’s advocacy center and its executive director with helping create interdisciplinary teams to interact the best way possible for children.

“We must make sure that when a child goes through what could be the most challenging and horrific event of their life that as we seek justice for that child we’re not putting that child on a path to further victimization but on a path to healing,” Bullock said. “Whatever role (career) we have, we have responsibility to see kids grow and be on a path for success.”

Widmer opened Emma’s House as a nonprofit in 2006.

It served 17 children that first year.

The numbers have increased and 12 years later Emma’s House served 17 children last month alone. The Carriage House, at 310 N. 4th St., in Hamilton, was purchased in November with triple the square footage of theformer location. Emma’s House strives to meet needs and has done remodeling and added staff, services and programs. Children do not live on site but go there as a safe place to get the services they need.

Widmer said the supportive community has been key.

“This has been a grassroots effort,” she said. “We would ask people to help us in various ways and everybody said ‘yes.’”

She thanked the board, staff, volunteers, cooperating services and community.

“Thanks for your service to Emma’s House and helping us make this happen,” Widmer said.

Brenda George, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Montana, said Emma’s House is part of a bigger picture.

“We have 27 advocacy centers and child forensic interview rooms across Montana,” she said. “Emma’s House is one of 10 that are accredited. Emma’s House is also one of 800 accredited centers across America. We are very proud of you, thanks for all you do.”

Sherriff Steve Holton, representing law enforcement’s participation with Emma’s House, credited Widmer with the success of the program.

“The resource and help you give us investigating these kind of crimes is unbelievable,” Holton said.

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright said it was a great day for Emma’s House because, “community-wide, unified response to allegation of sexual and physical abuse of kids has grown over the last decade here.”

Fulbright said the multidisciplinary team is the foundation of advocacy. He said law enforcement, Child and Family Services, the county attorney for prosecution, mental health, victim’s advocacy and Emma’s House work together and focus on children.

“We now have a statewide training for interviewing children like what Val does here,” Fulbright said. “It is called a forensic interview and is a special way to interview kids.”

In 2017, Emma’s House served 125 children in Ravalli County.

Bullock said the numbers aren’t statistics but “little beings with little souls.”

“Because of Emma’s House kids are being treated better immediately,” he said. “Yes it is a beautiful building but it is the staff that impacts and makes sure every child isn’t a statistic but on a path to success.”

The festive and fun open house had dance performances by youth from Groovz Dance Studio, time to meet with staff including Twyla, the specially trained canine companion for kids and tours. The celebration had nearly 100 guests of all ages and plenty of sunshine.

Emma's House Development Director Joni Lubke said the staff is thrilled to be having a grand opening.

“It took a lot of work and a lot of fundraising to get here but we’re happy to get here,” she said. “We are very lucky to have such a great space to help kids. We served as many kids last month as we did our first year – it’s been crazy around here but luckily we have more room and more people.”

The new facilities have a separate annex for the counseling unit and trauma treatment center. The center focuses on comforting children with fun spaces for play, calming waiting areas with fun art and light airy rooms for visits with professionals and family.

Upcoming projects include fencing the yard and parenting classes will begin in the fall.

Kierstin Schmitt, office manager and prevention coordinator, said the new space and expanded programming is important.

“Emma’s House has come a long way and we are very excited about this new chapter of serving the needs,” Schmitt said. “We’re also excited about providing services for parents and caregivers of the kids. It is a critical loop we needed to close for everyone to get the help they need.”

Visitors to the open house were impressed with the new facilities.

Cynthia Stotz-Capelle said the roomy simple elegance is perfect for the young clients.

“I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more,” she said.

To meet the need for continued growth, Emma’s House is seeking donations, there are room naming opportunities and there will be a live auction on Sept. 22.

Joni Lubke