BIG RAPIDS — A future child advocacy center is halfway to its first financial goal, enabling it to open its doors, thanks to a donation from a local civic organization.

On Thursday, the Big Rapids Lions Club donated $5,000 to the Open Arms Child Advocacy Center. Child advocacy centers provide a child-friendly, safe and neutral location where children who are victims or witnesses to a crime can be interviewed, along with receive support and other services, such as referrals for mental health treatment or counseling.

After a presentation about the proposed child advocacy center, the Lions Club decided to donate as part of its Centennial Project, said President Tom Samuel.

In 2017, Lions Club International celebrated 100 years of service and challenged local clubs to find a large project to support, he said.

"We were celebrating at the end of December and looking for a major cause to donate to," Samuel said. "We realized this is a pretty worthy thing and something surely needed around here, not just in Mecosta County, but in the surrounding area."

Last year, officials from law enforcement, mental health, Child Protective Services, medical facilities and victim advocates began a development team, working toward a future child advocacy center to serve Mecosta, Osceola, Lake and Newaygo counties.

Open Arms Child Advocacy Center is in the process of obtaining non-profit status. Organizers hope to be able to open by October, but in order to get the center off the ground, it is estimated a total of between $10,000 and $12,000 is needed, said Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Director Jim Eddinger, who also is on the development team.

"This donation is amazing because it's putting us to being over halfway where we need to be," he said. "We are just so happy about it."

Open Arms Child Advocacy Center will be located in a space donated by the Big Rapids Housing Commission. An in-kind donation of office equipment from Michigan Works also is going to help things get rolling, Eddinger said.

Children who have been victims of severe physical and/or sexual abuse would be able to go to the child advocacy center for one interview, avoiding the need for the child to tell their story numerous times, which can be difficult and traumatic for them.

"We had members who recalled sitting on juries in abuse cases and who heard about the process for interviewing victims," Samuel said. "We hope this center is a great resource in how these delicate cases are handled and ultimately solved."

Anyone looking to donate or for more information about the center can Eddinger at (231) 527-0007.