Dothan’s Mardi Party
Though New Orleans is the city most closely identified with the annual pre-lent celebration, many Alabama residents know that the city of Mobile’s Mardi Gras festivities came before those of the Big Easy.
story by Sarah Senn
For the past few years a local organization has embraced that spirit, bringing a little taste of Mardi Gras to Dothan to raise money for a worthy cause.
The Exchange Center for Child Abuse Prevention will host its Fourth Annual Mardi Gras Ball March 1, to raise money for child abuse education and prevention programs in the region.
“This event brings New Orleans to Dothan,” says Pam Miles, Executive Director of the center. “It helps the community understand the importance of child abuse prevention and gives individuals the opportunity to support these vital services in the Wiregrass.”
The center’s first Mardi Gras Ball in 2012 was planned in just six weeks and attended by 80 people. Last year’s fundraiser was attended by more than 200 people from around the Wiregrass. This year the event will be held at Saint Andrew’s Market, featuring live Motown music and Cajun-style food. It’s a full night of celebration, and guests are encouraged to wear Mardi Gras attire. Aside from dancing and networking, guests can bid on items in the silent auction at the ball. Miles says that she hopes to increase attendance to 400 this year.
All proceeds raised through the event and silent auction will go to support the center’s counseling services and education programs in the community. “We are here to help break the cycle of child abuse,” Miles said.
The Exchange Center for Child Abuse Prevention, now in its 35th year, is one of three child abuse prevention exchange centers in the state of Alabama and the only center in the Wiregrass. As a partner of the National Exchange Club, the organization has received the highest level of accreditation and has access to many national resources. Previously named The Wise Center, the agency operates with a small staff, including Miles, two full-time counselors, a parent aide and a part-time assistant in order to execute its mission.
The center does not have a typical counseling or clinic setting; rather it operates in a house. The colors are warm and inviting. The walls are adorned with encouraging quotes, healing artwork and positive tips to make visitors feel at ease. The center offers free counseling, parent aide in-home services, support groups and child abuse prevention education. These counseling services and programs target every type of abuse—domestic abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. Miles says they have approximately 600 counseling clients and are able to provide child abuse prevention education to more than 2,500 people in the Wiregrass every year. Most of the center’s clients are self-referred.
“Our center is for people of all ages, children and parents,” she explained. “We try to tackle abuse from all sides and help victims develop healthy coping skills.”
National statistics show that more than three million child abuse reports are made every year in the U.S. alone. As the Executive Director of the agency, Miles knows the risk factors for child abuse in families, including poverty, having multiple children under the age of two and substance abuse. The parent aide program is one of the unique opportunities that the center offers for at-risk parents and families. The program helps to target parents with those risk factors and meet with them in the home in order to develop healthy behaviors to ultimately prevent possible abuse. The program currently serves 10 local families with several others on the waitlist. The upcoming Mardi Gras Ball will help the Exchange Center fund that program and other outreach initiatives throughout the community.
The Fourth Annual Mardi Gras Ball will be held Saturday, March 1 from 7-11pm at The Saint Andrews Market. For more information about the Exchange Center for Child Abuse Prevention visit www.exchangecap.org or call (334) 671-1966.