The Children's Place, with Set Free Alaska

Set Free Alaska counselor Shannon Harris, left, CEO Philip Licht, and Children's Place Executive Director Paula Jones smile for a photo at The Children's Place in Wasilla on Tuesday. Set Free clients in the men's and women's substance abuse treatment programs recently made 15 blankets for The Children's Place to give to its clients.

WASILLA — A colorful blanket can mean more than a warm night for a troubled child.

On Tuesday morning, representatives from the local substance abuse treatment center Set Free Alaska presented The Children’s Place with 15 tie blankets to distribute to their young clients who have experienced sexual or another kind of physical abuse.

Set Free Alaska counselor Shannon Harris said the blanket project is a simple and relatively inexpensive activity the organization’s clients have been able to engage in for their own therapy and, more importantly, for the good of others.

“When people are in the act of addiction, they take and take and take, so it’s very nice for them to be able to give back,” Harris said.

Lily McCord, a Set Free client who helped make the blankets, agreed. She said it made her feel “really good inside” to contribute to a cause like that of The Children’s Place, and that she hopes the project will produce lasting benefits. The Children’s Place is a nonprofit private agency that provides “a child-friendly, neutral facility where professionals from agencies involved in the evaluation, investigation and treatment of child abuse meet to coordinate and bring their services together to the child and their family,” according to the group’s website.

Although this is only the third year Set Free Alaska has made and donated blankets — the last two years their products have gone to MY House, a center for homeless youth — The Children’s Place has made a tradition of providing blankets for its clients for more than a decade.

“It’s an important part of kids coming here,” said Paula Jones, executive director for The Children’s Place. “It’s a little piece of comfort they leave with.”

Though The Children’s Place is not an investigative agency, Jones said, it does work closely with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and Alaska State Troopers — four troopers with the Child Investigation Unit lease space in the same building as The Children’s Place. Mental health professionals are also sometimes brought in for child assessments to supplement the exams conducted by the nonprofit’s volunteer medical director, Dr. Cathy Baldwin-Johnson. (Baldwin-Johnson is also a founder of The Children’s Place and a retired family physician based in the Valley.)

While the job of the authorities is to “make sure the child is safe,” Children’s Place employees look for ways to foster “long-term healing,” Jones said.

“Everyone is here because they’re passionate about what they do,” she said.

Set Free Alaska CEO Philip Licht said many of the nonprofit’s clients are also victims of sexual abuse — sometimes a reason for their substance abuse — and they, too, want to help heal emotional wounds. So in collaborating with The Children’s Place, the people at Set Free Alaska work toward fulfilling their mission and extend their community impact.

“I think the partnerships and the ability to do things together with different (agencies) is really crucial in moving forward,” Licht said. “It’s almost gonna be necessary for survival, and it improves services anyway.”

Jones said she’s hoping The Children’s Place can move into a bigger building in the next year or two, and eventually have OCS staff, more medical professionals and more troopers onsite.

For more information about The Children’s Place, call 357-5157 or visit thechildrens-place.org. Set Free Alaska can be contacted at 373-4732 or via setfreealaska.org

Contact reporter Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or caitlin.skvorc@frontiersman.com.

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