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Lori Antkoviak


Stewards of Children

402 Trowbridge Street
Allegan, Michigan 49010
Five years ago, Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center was in dire straights, leaving too many sexually abused and neglected children under served, according to its current executive director, Lori Antkoviak. A lifelong champion of children, she swiftly turned things around, substantially expanding services, including educational outreach, and medical attention, counseling, and temporary shelter for Allegan County’s abused youth.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Safe Harbor Children's Advocacy Center Executive Director Lori Antkoviak: It means having the courage to face tough times and make tough decisions – decisions like making difficult staffing changes and deciding which debts can be paid while still making payroll. 
It is always important for a leader to have a goal in mind, and then to set another as soon as that goal has been reached. In my leadership position, I have to be willing to look at all the options, and when necessary, choose the option that might not be the most popular. 
A good leader also listens to staff members and considers their opinions. Our agency’s strategic plan is one example of this. Putting it together is a process that typically involves high-level decision-makers. So, while board members and executive directors make the choices that finalize the plan, it’s still the staff members who have to carry it out. Those staff members
My dream is that, one day, no child will have to suffer from physical or sexual abuse or experience the devastating effects from that abuse.
deserve a chance to give their input on the strategic plan and to feel that they are being heard. Their opinions are valuable.
What is your dream for kids?
I dream that every child knows that they are important, smart, and loved. My dream is that, one day, no child will have to suffer from physical or sexual abuse or experience the devastating effects from that abuse. That none of them have to face that trauma, which includes coming to the realization that the abuse is not their fault.
They come to our center with feelings of great loss sometimes – especially if the abuser was a family member. The child may be removed from the home and placed in foster care, and the family member might go to prison. Even if those things don’t happen, the family may no longer get together on holidays or other times to avoid the abuser. A child can lose family members that way, too. They have to face a lot of loss.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
It is much easier to find funding to provide treatment and counseling to children who are suffering from abuse and neglect than it is to find finances to provide prevention services. We could provide a lot more counseling hours and offer more prevention services like our Stewards of Children program if that weren’t the case.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I know we are making progress when people see me in the community and they tell me that they now recognize the dangers of different situations regarding children's safety because of the work we do. I find that many parents don’t understand how vulnerable children are when it comes to being sexually and physically abused.
We do child quarterly death reviews, so we know how every child in Allegan County has died. We know how many die from accidental choking, unsafe sleep situations [in infants], car accidents, and drowning. We also know how many of these
People tend to have a lot of false perceptions, such as the notion that child abuse does not occur in nice places and wealthier neighborhoods.
children are killed by their abusers.
We keep on making progress by getting the word out to our community in as many ways as possible. We put forth every effort to educate parents and other adults on the realities of what we find through the local media and lots of other resources.
What are you most proud of?
When I took over the agency five years ago, Safe Harbor was experiencing severe financial difficulties.  We had a lot of debt and not a whole lot of financial resources in the bank. We owed creditors for medical services that we provide our clients, we owed a lot of money on our building, and we did not have the means to keep up with so much debt. Today, the only debt we have is our mortgage,
Safe Harbor has experienced tremendous financial growth for the past few years through expanded programs and financial contributions. We were able to accomplish this in several ways with the assistance of our helpful board of directors, our supportive staff, and many concerned community members.
We did more grant writing, both to find new grants and to expand our current grants so that they could help us provide more services. We also put a great deal of effort into expanding fundraising.
The biggest fundraising event that we hold is an annual banquet with raffles, games and silent auctions, and it used to be very small. Attendance was low.  We raised about $6,000 at the banquet in 2010. Last year’s event brought in 230 people and raised $25,000. We’re a small community; that much money is big for us.  
What public perceptions or historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping abused children? Why? 
People tend to have a lot of false perceptions, such as the notion that child abuse does not occur in nice places and wealthier neighborhoods. They have ideas that this kind of thing only occurs in communities with fewer resources.
Also -- and I see this all the time -- many people just do not know what they should report to authorities or how to handle these situations when they see them. Some are afraid to report what they perceive is abuse in case it turns out not to be. “What if I’m wrong?” is something I hear frequently. My answer is always the same: “What if you’re right? What if you don’t report your suspicions? If that happens, the child will continue to suffer the horror of child abuse.”
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