TOY to provide support to area youth

The 700 kids who passed through the doors of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance last year came from all areas of the city, all family backgrounds and represented an array of ages, but they all had one thing in common: They were all victims of sexual abuse.

While the pain of the abuse is not easy to overcome, the PCA does its part to alleviate some of the kids’ burdens and restore some of their youthful vigor — an effort that this year will be fueled by contributions from the LGBT community.

In the past several years, LGBT grantmaking agency Delaware Valley Legacy Fund has collected hundreds of stuffed animals, games, dolls and other toys for children in the HIV/AIDS unit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia through its annual Toy event, a toy drive that will be expanded this year to benefit PCA.

The plush toys donated at Toy will be sent to PCA, while the rest of the items will go to CHOP, which especially needs gifts for teens and infants. Both agencies will also receive grants of at least $2,000.

Each holiday season, PCA workers play Santa Claus and deliver gifts to their lower-income clients, while the teddy bears and other stuffed animals that are collected will be used to bring smiles to youth throughout the year.

PCA executive director Chris Kirchner explained that the plush toys are used to decorate the agency, and each child who comes for services is allowed to select an animal to keep.

“We try to make them feel as comfortable as we can while they’re here,” Kirchner said. “We use the stuffed animals to make our waiting room as child-friendly as possible and they’re given out throughout the year.”

Joe Matthews, chair of Toy, was himself a victim of childhood abuse, which motivated him to consider PCA.

He said once he toured the agency, he was eager to help contribute to the atmosphere the organization fosters.

“I went and did a walk-through and it felt very welcoming, and it felt like a place where a child who has been traumatized could come and find some comfort,” he said. “I knew what we could bring to the table with Toy, and I felt like helping to create this great environment where these kids can just play and be kids seemed like the right fit.”

The PCA works with youth up to age 18, although most of its clients are 8 or 9. About one-third of the children are boys, something Kirchner said donors in the holiday drive often overlook, as well as the fact that the organization also serves teens.

When families come to PCA, the agency offers trained child-interview specialists to discuss the abuse with the child and determine the facts of the case. The agency also offers counseling, support and self-esteem groups and an array of educational resources and assistance for caregivers.

The organization serves youth from throughout the city, although a majority of its clients come from lower-income areas.

“We know child sex abuse happens in all socio-economic situations, all neighborhoods and to people of all cultural backgrounds, but kids in lower-income families often tend to be more at risk,” Kirchner said. “These kids aren’t always in the best daycare settings and the families may be more transient, so the people we serve do tend to be skewed toward the lower socio-economic scale.”

Kirchner noted that the organization keeps in touch with clients and often provides assistance like cab fare to therapy sessions to help the children and their families continue to heal.

The gifts that are delivered during the holidays, as well as the stuffed toys that each child leaves the office with, can go a long way to restore some normalcy in the children’s lives, Kirchner said.

“These kids often have many other problems in their lives. Sex abuse is one of potentially many issues and challenges they face, so we try to do everything we can to help make their Christmas a little bit better and also to help them throughout the year. Kids who’ve been abused sometimes have lower self-esteem that develops from that abuse, so giving them these toys that are just for them helps them to feel better about themselves. Helping families give them a good Christmas or letting them choose their own bear out of the pile combine hopefully to help offset the damage that was done by the abuse.”

Toy will be held from 7-11 p.m. Dec. 4 at Marketplace Design Center, 2400 Market St. Tickets are $40, plus one unwrapped toy. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.dvlf.org.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].