By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Ellen Mitchell, executive director of the all-volunteer Safe Haven Child Visitation Centers of the New River Valley, has been selected to receive a 2014 Child Welfare Certificate of Appreciation Award for “significant contributions to the field of child welfare.”
Mitchell is one of only seven people selected statewide to receive the award. She received five nominations, one of which states that while others have contributed to Safe Haven’s success “no single person has played the major role in reducing violence and trauma in the lives of the children served that Ellen Mitchell has.”
The award recognizes those “whose prevention, intervention, and treatment efforts in the area of child abuse and neglect have shown exceptional merit in Virginia,” according to Hayley B. Mathews, executive director of Virginia Department of Social Services’ Family and Children’s Trust Fund (FACT) of Virginia — the presenting agency.
A request for nominations from FACT states that, “nominees’ contributions to prevention, intervention and treatment efforts must be truly outstanding, clearly setting them apart from their peers. Potential award recipients are characterized by an unwavering commitment to the safety and well-being of Virginia’s children and a dedication to leading innovative, promising, and/or best practices within communities.”
According to one of Mitchell’s nominations, there was no supervised visitation or safe exchange program for families of domestic violence west of Roanoke prior to the opening of Safe Haven in Pulaski in 2008. The center’s mission is to provide a safe environment for children to visit with estranged family members and to facilitate the safe exchange of children subject to court-ordered visitation.
“It was primarily (Mitchell’s) compassion for children who live in danger which made her the driving force in helping to ensure the safety of children from more than 350 families in Virginia’s 27th Judicial District,” states one of the nomination letters. The names of those making nominations were not revealed.
Another nomination letter states that Mitchell was “instrumental in organizing and opening” the center, and adds, “There is no one more deserving than Ellen Mitchell for recognition of her dedication to the prevention, intervention and treatment efforts in the area of child abuse and neglect.
That nomination continues, “Ellen’s ability to establish a close and continuing relationship with law enforcement, the court system, local town and county officials, and the children and their families served by Safe Haven that sets her apart from the rest.”
Other nomination letters state that “Safe Haven would not be as rooted in our community today if it were not for” Mitchell, and that “she goes above and beyond the call when it comes to the safety of the children in our community and in the surrounding counties that also use our facility.”
Mitchell was recognized in the nominations for her efforts in beginning and organizing the annual “Guns-N-Hoses” fundraiser that raised over $12,000 for Safe Haven last year and for being the “mastermind in creating and implementing” the Ten for Tots event that raised $4,200 to feed 250 families this past Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Ellen truly is one of Pulaski County’s most treasured jewels and very deserving to be recognized in this field,” a nomination states.
Another letter points out “the personal danger that is involved in (the) selfless service” Mitchell and her Safe Haven staff provide, all as a volunteer service.
“This daily work is invaluable, but her compassion and commitment is most obvious when she speaks about the children and her desire to keep them safe and prevent further abuse in their lives,” states another nomination letter.
It goes on to state, “Child abuse prevention is a challenging issue for the New River Valley. Ellen Mitchell and her work at the Safe Haven demonstrate that a strong leader can make a difference in the lives of children and families in the community.”
Mitchell will be presented the award at the 2014 Virginia Child Abuse Prevention Conference in Richmond April 7. The Governor’s Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect previously presented the award.
In October, The Southwest Times presented Mitchell with its 2013 Civic Honors Award through Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.