One of our amazing interns, Danielle DeStefano spoke at the University of Scranton’s Supervisor Dinner which highlights some of the students’ internship experiences.  Danielle’s reflection on her experience as an intern at our center is very moving.  We are grateful for her time with us and appreciate that she is allowing us to share her personal experience.  

Danielle is a remarkable person who will certainly continue to make a big difference in the lives of many others on her journey through life. 

I have been an intern at the Children’s Advocacy Center for two semesters now and my experiences there have been truly profound. The Children’s Advocacy Center has changed me and made me closer to the person I want to be. As I grow and develop into a young adult I have come to the realization that I do not believe in accidents. I believe all of the joys, the laughter, the pain and the tragedies have been there to teach me and to help me grow. Furthermore, I believe that every person who has passed through my life has served a special purpose. I may not understand it instantly or ever at all, but I am confident in the significance of our human relationships and interactions.

It seems to me that there are very few things in life that everyone experiences. Not everyone will go to college, or have a career, or even a family. However, everyone will be hurt and have their heart broken and be somehow affected by the words and actions of other people. My internship has given me a much greater appreciation for my life, as I quickly realized that the pain and hurt I have experienced is minuscule compared to the lives of the children I meet.

The Children’s Advocacy Center is a private, non-profit organization, which aims to assess and treat children from infancy to age 18, who have fallen victim to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse or neglect. Internships at the Children’s Advocacy Center are very competitive as it provides unbelievable experience and education. Fortunately for me, I was given this incredible opportunity but it came with warning from several of my professors. They explained what a wonderful opportunity I had been given, and in the same breathe described the emotional toll that comes with it. They stressed the severity of some cases and some even mentioned my ‘one,’ something I didn’t understand until I met her.

She was not like most of the little girls who came into the Children’s Advocacy Center. Most of them come in wanting to play and socialize, usually because they have no idea what they are there for; it seems that task is entirely too difficult for most parents/guardians to take on. She was not one of those children. She knew exactly what was going on. It was clear that she wanted to come in, do whatever was required, and leave. She had no interest in being distracted or talked to, unless it would give her the ticket out. However, as her mother continued to walk in and out of the building in tears, it was evident to me that she did need someone, whether she realized it or not.

She stood in the corner of the waiting room, crying and alone, but nothing I said or did could change how she was feeling, and how could I expect it to? She did not want anything to do with me and I was not going to push her. So, I did what any adult would do in this situation. I colored. I picked up some crayons and let her know I would be at the table, which stood far below my knee, if she wanted to join me. She just stood there staring for a while but eventually walked over and sat right next to me. We started talking and eventually, she would not leave my side.

Before meeting her, I read her file, as I do before any other child comes in. Every one is hard to read, no matter the perpetrator, the age of the child, the kind of abuse. It does not matter; it all stings the same way. She was no different. Like most of the children, she was a victim of sexual abuse. She was violently raped by a man she trusted. It happened the night before she came to the Center, and her mother walked in on the act. She is only three-years-old and what the Children’s Advocacy Center calls an “emergency case”. As horrific as it was, I read it, felt that same initial anger and sadness then picked my head up and went to see who would be waiting at the front door. However, I had never felt, about any child, the way I did when she walked out. I felt the need to take care of her and make sure she would be okay after she left. I wanted to make sure she would always feel safe and feel loved. I wanted to make sure she would have the best life she could. But, instead, she walked away and I closed the door behind her.

Looking back, there were many instances that should lead me to believe that I did something for this little girl, that in some way my presence made the day a little bit easier. I was the one that she asked to sit with in her interview, as she would disclose the gruesome details of what had occurred the night before. After her forensic exam, where every inch of her body would be inspected, she asked for me. She reached her arms out for me and I had never experienced anything like it. However, at the end of the day she is going to do her best to forget everything that had happened, and I hope she does. She was my ‘one’ and I will never forget her. She taught me so much about this field, and what people really need in times like these. At three-years-old, she had been hurt, had her heart broken and was deeply affected by the words and actions of the people who had passed through her life. I only hope that in that moment I made it a little better.

I tell this story only because I feel like it captures the true essence of what this internship meant to me. It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life, but I would not trade it for anything in the world. Being at the Children’s Advocacy Center changed my life in a way that I could never begin to explain, but I hope that the staff and the children can see that when they look at me.

I will never know what goes next in her story, but I can guarantee the Children’s Advocacy Center will be the reason it gets better. The Children’s Advocacy Center is made up of a multidisciplinary team who dedicate their lives to making children feel safe. They are advocates, interviewers, medical personnel, caseworkers, and law enforcement who are a support, comfort and smile to every child who comes to the Center. Thousands of children have come in fearful and alone, but the CAC has ensured that none of them walk out that way. Last semester, after the very first week of my internship I wrote a journal for class, reflecting on the experiences I had so far. It began, “Here it’s safe, here it’s warm. Here the daises guard you from every harm. Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true. Here is the place where I love you.” I planned to give the Children’s Advocacy Center a small token of my gratitude, by painting these words to hang on the wall. I hope and pray that children will see these and know that the here it is safe and it is warm and here they will be protected. I will paint these words because I know they are true. Mary Ann, Jen, Bridget, Julie and the rest of the team have made me feel safe, protected and loved in a way that I will never forget.

Once again, this experience far exceeded all that I had hoped for. It changed my mind, changed my heart, and changed my perspective. Today, I believe that I can and will make a difference. No gesture is too small. No mountain is too high. And I am not too afraid to go after what I want. Someday, I will come back to the Children’s Advocacy Center and thank them for the knowledge and the wisdom they have given me. I will tell them about the children I am helping and how they gave me the courage to do that. To the future interns at the Children’s Advocacy Center: count your blessings, smile, be invested, take advantage of this opportunity, and thank the people who inspire you. This chapter is closing for me, but may God bless and watch over the next one who walks through the pink door.

- Danielle DeStefano, University of Scranton Class of 2016