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Carolyn Daniels is small in stature, but a giant in terms of the service, heart and dedication she has given to the Fayette County residents in need of counseling, help and advocacy in the courts.
Daniels, as the executive director of SAFE (Sexual Assault and Family Emergencies) for the past 23 years, she has been an understanding, compassionate person who cares enough to make a difference in the lives of others.
Daniels was recently honored with a retirement dinner, hosted by the SAFE Board of Directors, Illinois Attorney General’s office, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the SAFE staff.
Carolyn Daniels recalls SAFE’s introduction to Fayette County, remembering when she began being aware of the need for such a program.
“We started out so small,” Daniels said. “When I look back, it’s hard to believe that we were in a donated space in Fayette County Hospital in the very beginning.
“It was before cell phones, before beepers, even. When Dorothy Schultz and I were on call, it meant that we had to stay by our telephones and keep the line free,” she said.
“I would tell all my friends, ‘Don’t call me this weekend, because I’m on call and I might get a call.’
“We didn’t have very many calls in the beginning, because 23 years ago, people didn’t like to say the words ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault.’ It just wasn’t something they could say, let alone tell (someone) that it had happened to them,” Daniels said.
But as the word about SAFE spread, people came forward.
“More and more people began to come forward, and even if they wouldn’t go to law enforcement, they felt free enough to talk about it,” Daniels said. “You know, it’s sort of like having a splinter in your finger – if you don’t get it out, it will just fester and fester. It’s kind of like that with sexual assault.”
“And some of the women I’ve talked to have held that in for 20 or 30 years and never told a soul. Then all of a sudden they felt like, ‘I’ve got to get this out or I’m going to die,’” Daniels said.
At first, it was mainly women who sought out SAFE
“The more we got the word out and the more we worked with the Department of Children and Family Services, we got more and more children. Now we have more children than we have adults. It’s sad – the children have no voice,” she said.
She attributes the rise in child abuse to several things.
“I think a lot of things contribute to the rise – it has to do with the Internet, the cell phone and all those new contraptions that put the predators out there. They snatch kids and take them all over the world,” she said.
“They send children’s pictures, pornography, all over the world. The computer and cell phone crimes are a million-dollar industry all over the world. It’s a horrendous business.”
“We want to put blinders on and think these things are not happening here, but it is. We see five or six people here every year in this one little agency,” she said.
Daniels also cites failed marriages as one of the causes. “The predators groom their victims. They look for mothers with children, who are vulnerable, moms needing money, fighting to keep a roof over their heads … things to do with the children.
“That’s who they look for. The predator moves in under the pretext that he is a good person and will help provide all the things the children need, and it leads to molesting the children,” she said.
True to her character, Daniels preferred to talk more about SAFE, her trusted staff and the services they offer to those in need than herself.
However, she shared some of her personal feelings, including that her experience in working with SAFE has not caused disillusionment in people. “Really, working with victims has taught me so many things, and I have such respect for people who have gone through what they have gone through,” she said.
“I’m going to miss helping them. It’s been my pleasure all these years and to say, ‘It wasn’t your fault, and we’re going to get you through this.’ I’ve helped them get through to the other side and feel whole again, and do the things they thought they couldn’t do.”
“I believe it was a God-given thing that got me into this work. I worked for Dr. (Joshua) Weiner for a lot of years, and I know there were a lot of victims then, but I didn’t know enough then to know what was going on,” Daniels said.
“But those victims were crying out for help and thinking that somehow, the doctor would know by checking their heart or throat, because they felt damaged. Dr. Weiner was going to retire when I was taking my first training,” she said.
The more Daniels got involved and saw what was going on, she decided to volunteer. She knew that was what she needed to do.
A friend suggested she become an advocate.
“I remember telling my mom, and she said, ‘What does an advocate do?’ and I said, ‘They go with victims to the hospital and to court.’
“There was a big pause, and she said, ‘Why would you want to do a thing like that?’ But she was of the generation that couldn’t even say the word.
“The more I did it, the better I felt about what I was doing, and I felt that God somehow led me to where I am,” she said.
Daniels truly cares about the people who come to SAFE. She has sometimes taken them into her own home. She has taken children there and fed them, cut their hair and bought them clothes.
“I wouldn’t trade that for any thing in the world,” she said.
As to her retirement plans, she said, “I’ve been too busy to think what I’m going to do. I have a lot of housework to catch up on, a lot of weeds to pull.
“I ordered a new Weed Eater on wheels for my retirement. It edges and does everything, but I haven’t had time to use it,” Daniels said.
Her family includes her husband, Glen, and a grown daughter and son, as well as four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She is a member of First United Methodist Church of Vandalia.
Even after retirement, Daniels plans to help out at when needed. “I’m going to run a couple of groups for SAFE. I’ll volunteer here, for sure.”
Which goes to show, you can take the girl out of the center of a worthy calling, but you can’t take the heart for the cause out of the girl.