Jessica Milan Miller wants to protect children. So in 2003, she became the executive director of Gingerbread House, a nonprofit organization that services abused children, in Shreveport, La.
Although Miller cannot spend as much time with children at Gingerbread now that she serves as director, she is working hard to save them from harm.
Gingerbread was launched in 1998 with a mission to minimize traumatic experiences for abused children. They now serve nine parishes in Northwestern Louisiana, and offer counseling services to victims and their families as well as provide support for those within the justice system. In addition, Gingerbread conducts interviews and investigations with Child Protective Services, Medical and Mental Health professional, and law enforcement.
In 2010, they conducted forensic Interviews with 574 children, its highest since 2004. A Forensic Interview is basically an extensive interviewing process that child protective service agencies do to find out if and how the child was mistreated. Of the 15 child advocacy centers in the state, Gingerbread handles the highest forensic interview caseload. Child Advocacy Centers are focused on creating survivors out of child abuse victims and are dedicated to the prevention and education of child abuse.
Miller recalls a victim-turned-victor situation that she cannot forget. Several years ago, a 6-year-old girl arrived at the center after being removed from a car where she and her siblings lived with a drug addicted mother. Her sister was age 4, and brother, age 1. Their mother prostituted the children for money to support her drug habit.
Not only was the girl acting as a parent to her siblings, but she was also taking her sister’s “turns” to protect her. Within months of being brought into a safe, loving environment she was able to become a child and start the healing process. Eventually a family adopted the three children – because the mother could not kick her drug habit.
Although the story was heartbreaking, Miller said that being able to see this little girl walk into her office with a beautiful smile on her face reminded her why she does what she does.
Gingerbread will continue to help as many children and families as they can through outreach programs such as Knowledge is Power. It’s a body safety / sexual abuse risk-reduction program that is designed to appeal to children and adults. Among other things, children are taught that it’s not ok for anyone to touch those special places and if they have been or think they have been how to tell the right person. They also show adults how to spot the signs of an abused child and what the proper procedure is to helping them.
Since all services are provided free of charge to victims and their families, the biggest problem the organization faces is funding. Although they receive grants and contributions from private donors, they can only make a dollar stretch so far, that’s why continuous community involvement is paramount.
In fact, in a world where we can no longer sleep with our doors unlocked or allow our children to explore without limitations, there are people such as Miller who would rather bring joy than inflict pain. Every day, children are victimized for various reasons. Often times, those who are supposed to protect children are the ones bringing about the nightmares. Whenever a person, especially a child, is hurt in a way that seems irreparable, it brings that person hope to know that someone wants to help them survive. “I see life differently now, I appreciate it for what it is. I’ve had children since I began here and I see them in a whole new light as well. In this field, you may not make a lot of money but I’m doing something that I love.” said Miller. My goal in life isn’t to be a millionaire or even to be famous, but it’s to be able to make a career out of helping as many young people as I possibly can.