SafePath creates a safe, neutral, child friendly environment for children during allegations of child abuse.
By Lindsay Field Penticuff
There is strength in numbers, and when it comes to the work SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center Inc. is doing in the community, those numbers are reflected not only in the staff at the Marietta-headquartered nonprofit, but with those who choose to dedicate their time serving on the board of directors.
“When I think of the strength of our board, their various backgrounds and experiences are the foundation that enables and propels them to have the vision and courage to take the steps in today’s world to do what it takes to support the thousands of children in Cobb County and surrounding areas who SafePath serves,” says Jinger Robins, CEO, SafePath.
Robins, who began her career with SafePath in 1995 as the organization’s first executive director, truly believe it takes a village to lead what can sometimes be a challenging and exhausting role, yet is extremely rewarding.
Founded in 1983, SafePath’s vision is a community free of child abuse. They offer clinical, forensic, intervention and medical programs to children who are victims of child abuse, and they are dedicated to improving the lives of children who have been involved in cases of alleged child abuse. But that vision isn’t something that can happen overnight or with just a handful of professionals trained in working with children and families who have experienced trauma.
“I truly believe that SafePath’s success, progress, and sustainability is directly related to the diversity, commitment, and dedication of our board,” Robins says. “Boards members are like children, all moving in the same direction as they grow, mature, and accomplish goals that will help them succeed in life.”
And while Robins believes SafePath’s board is unmatched in what they are doing to support the community, board members say the organization wouldn’t — and couldn’t — be successful without Robins, her team, and their dedicated service to the community. “Jinger is really amazing,” says Dan Cushing, SafePath board president. “She’s an outstanding leader and very focused on the mission — not just daily, but hourly.”
Cushing, a partner at Ernst & Young LLP, was introduced to SafePath about five years ago by his close friend, Jeff Brown, who was serving on the board and in charge of the organization’s annual gala at the time. “I have four kids of my own and we live in Cobb County, so it just resonated with me when he was telling me about the mission,” says Cushing.
He also grew up in the Midwest and would sometimes travel with his basketball team to inner city Detroit, Michigan. “Looking back on it now, you could see on the kids’ faces where they had been hit, because there was definitely some sort of abuse going on there,” he recalls.
He also served in the Marine Corps, so it wasn’t unusual, he says, to hear horrifying stories from Marines who joined the military to get away from dangerous environments at home. Cushing was named president about two years after his first introduction to SafePath and has enjoyed serving on the board.
“I’m always overwhelmed with the other board members who I work with continuously,” he shares. “They run across a breadth of different professions and have different backgrounds, all in some way, shape or form tying into the mission and the board. But their involvement, the effort and energy they give, has been amazing.”
And with that energy comes Sean Ferrell, SafePath’s board treasurer who has served the organization for a little over a decade. “I’m thankful to be in a position to give back to my community; to be able to represent such an amazing company; and to be able to assist such an amazing organization. …We have some really tough things going on in society today,” says Ferrell, senior vice president and chief financial officer at LGE Community Credit Union.
Ferrell was introduced to SafePath through his work with the LGE Community Outreach Foundation, which was created nearly 15 years ago to take community giving to a corporate level. To date, they’ve donated $2 million to the communities LGE serves. “At the time, a really good friend of mine who helped us set up the 501(C)3 was a board member at SafePath and was rolling off the board,” Ferrell says. “He asked me to sort of step in … and I vividly remember meeting Jinger at our Christmas Breakfast. The rest is history!”
Ferrell fell in love with the passion Robins has for SafePath, and says he believes in what she’s helped to build within the organization, so he tries every day to support her in that mission of moving it forward. After serving on the board and four as treasurer, Ferrell says that being a board member and having the ability to see the inner workings of an organization like SafePath is tough at times, but it’s also amazing what they can get accomplished with such limited resources.
“I truly believe in sweat equity,” he adds. “I can sit back and easily give a financial donation and give a shout out, but if you really believe in something, then you’re willing to get down in the dirt and in the mud and work. That’s how I feel about SafePath. I am willing to give that to this organization because I believe in what they do.”
Ferrell, whose parents are a retired school teacher and the owner of three childcare centers, says he’s been around children his entire life. He vividly remembers as a child understanding that some of the children his mother cared for had something going on with them at home and how impactful that was. But he also remembers wondering who helped those children.
“When you’re a child and you’re sick, you go to the doctor. When you’re a child and you need legal assistance, you find a police officer. But when you are abused, specifically sexually abused, there’s not necessarily a named hero. However, I feel like SafePath is creating an environment for those abused children to find their hero,” says Ferrell.
And that hero needs a village of supporters. “I think we could probably take that statement to another level,” Ferrell says. “Because even though it takes a village, within that village, relationships are built, and I am a firm believer that life is about creating and fostering relationships, and what Jinger has done to position SafePath as a legitimate mitigating impactful, even preventive, organization as it pertains to sexual abuse of children, is absolutely amazing. Those relationships have allowed her to sort of harness the community’s resources.”
Another one of those resources is Genuine Parts Company, where Ferrell’s wife works. “I had the opportunity to meet the executive team and introduce them to SafePath and they, again, stepped up to the plate, and they support SafePath tremendously,” Ferrell adds. “It’s relationships and business partnerships that we make selectively to create that village that Jinger so eloquently speaks of.”
Kristen Reed, a realtor with Atlanta Communities Brokerage, definitely understands the importance of partnerships in creating a community that is safe for children. “Families moving to Cobb County with children need to know they are moving into a safe community,” says Reed.
She first volunteered at SafePath 10 years ago after a mutual friend who served in the Crimes Against Children Unit told Reed that she needed to meet Robins because he felt they had the same heart for children. Reed quickly became involved as a board member and now serves as the secretary of the board and is dedicated to helping make sure SafePath remains strong — both today and in the future.
Itrellis Ross, a longtime SafePath supporter, as well as the board’s vice president and a member of the organization’s Special Events Committee, adds, “It takes all of us working together to educate our children, our communities, and each other on the importance of protecting our children. By working together, we can raise the necessary funds to support SafePath to continue providing programs to protect and heal our children. It takes all of us to protect the children who can’t protect themselves.”
Ross, who is director of Member Care at Cobb EMC, first learned about SafePath in 2000 from a co-worker. “As a child growing up, seeing news stories on TV about children being abused stuck with me, and I wanted to help but couldn’t because I was a child myself,” she recalls. “I promised myself that when I grew up, I would do what I could to help protect children.”
So, when she had the opportunity through her employer to do volunteer work, Ross says she spoke with a co-worker about the type of volunteer work she was interested in doing and the type of organization she’d like to work with. “I was given a pamphlet on SafePath,” she says. “I reached out to Jinger for a tour, and she asked me if I was interested in serving on the board. I felt honored and said ‘yes.’”
And for more than 20 years, Ross has continued that honor of helping protect children by her service as a volunteer and on the board.
“SafePath is a great organization that we all wish didn’t exist, but due to the crucial realities of this world, SafePath must exist to protect children,” Ross says. “SafePath is an asset because we are that safe place for children. At SafePath, children can tell their stories in a child-friendly environment with trained professionals who know how to talk to children and let them tell their stories. The well-being of children is our top priority. I am biased, but I feel that SafePath has the best therapists and programs for children.”
One such program includes the much-needed medical program, which is supported by a Wellstar Health System pediatric nurse practitioner who provides services to children younger than 18 years old who have been or are purported to have been sexually abused, physically abused and/or neglected.
Wellstar Kennestone and Windy Hill Hospitals Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Callie Andrews also serves on the board. She first learned about SafePath from retired Wellstar Chief Pediatric Officer, Avril Beckford, MD, upon joining the local health system in 2016. “Dr. Beckford was always a huge supporter of SafePath and has introduced many Wellstar leaders to the organization,” Andrews says. “SafePath is an instrumental advocacy center within the Cobb community. As an advocacy center, their entire focus is supporting and improving the lives of children who have been abused. The unique, personalized, and coordinated care the center provides to children in unimaginable circumstances is invaluable.”
Andrews has served on the board for four years and adds that she continues to do so because of the organization’s leadership and their deep commitment to SafePath, their work, and community impact. “When it comes to child abuse situations, it absolutely ‘takes a village’ to care for the child and pursue the case. SafePath brings together a multidisciplinary team, from child protection and law enforcement to legal, medical, and mental health professionals to care for the whole situation in a safe and coordinated environment,” concludes Andrews.
And while the phrase “It takes a village” is used to indicate a sense of community when raising a child, SafePath’s board truly represents the sense of values and dedication it takes to sustain the local organization and help build a community needed to protect our children.
To learn more, visit safepath.org.
SafePath’s Board of Directors
- (President) Dan Cushing, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP
- (Vice President) Itrellis Ross, Director of Member Care, Cobb EMC
- (Treasurer), Sean Ferrell, SVP/Chief Financial Officer, LGE Community Credit Union
- (Secretary), Kristen Reed, Realtor, The Reed Group, Atlanta Co.
- Callie Andrews, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Wellstar Kennestone and Windy Hill Hospitals
- Barbie Brown, Corporate/Financial Executive Recruiter, Coastal Consulting and Recruiting
- Kristina Brown, Owner/Proprietor, Governors Gun Club
- Brett Cannon, CEO, ApolloMD
- Hunter Carlson, Director–Strategic Advisory Services, Covalus
- Lee Johnson, Senior Vice President of Commercial Banking, Wells Fargo Bank