Marjorie Menestres and Leigh Duque: Keeping violence at bay


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On any of these cool autumn nights, dozens of our neighbors will face sudden terror. A mother may be beaten while making dinner for her child. A knife used to pare an apple may become a weapon. After the crisis passes, if it passes, the house will most assuredly be slow to settle down.

Scenes like this are too common in Wake County, where thousands of abuse cases are reported each year. Even if there is no abuse in the home, many local children grow up with parents who experienced emotional or physical abuse, which affects the way they parent their own children.

This happens in every neighborhood, with parents of every color, creed, education or income. SAFEchild and InterAct work with mothers as part of our jointly implemented MOVE program – Mothers Overcoming Violence through Education and Empowerment. Together, we reinforce positive parenting techniques, develop strategies to assure safety for moms and their children, improve self-esteem and teach strategies to overcome life’s challenges.

The UNC School of Social Work evaluated our program’s long-term outcomes and found that mothers who completed the program report an increased ability to protect their children from abuse and violence, as well as improved attitudes toward parenting and stronger coping skills. Raising safe and healthy kids is every family’s responsibility, and they need the community to support them in that endeavor.

Marjorie Menestres

Executive director, SAFEchild

Leigh Duque

Executive director, InterAct


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Honoring mothers 365 days a year



This weekend many of us will recognize our mothers, grandmothers and daughters by giving flowers, writing cards or taking over the household responsibilities for the day. We do it because we want to let them know that they are appreciated. But mothers need support the other 364 days a year, too.

My first child was born on the other side of the world – thousands of miles away from my family and friends – in a country where I didn’t speak the language, so I know what it’s like to feel socially isolated and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a parent. Everyone wants to be the best mother possible, but with little support it can feel like an insurmountable responsibility.

At SAFEchild, we know that every mother wants – and deserves – to be given the support she needs to navigate the challenges and joys of being a parent and create a nurturing environment free from abuse and neglect. We also know that because of external pressures, or because of how they were raised, or because they lack certain skills, many mothers fall short of their expectations. Sadly, sometimes the consequences endanger their children.

Abuse or neglect happens in every neighborhood to mothers of every color, creed, education level and income. Thousands of cases of child abuse are reported in Wake County every year. SAFEchild works to eliminate abuse by helping families learn how to create a nurturing environment.

Most families are capable of creating safe and loving homes given the right support, information and community resources.

All parents, at one time or another, need to seek support and ask for help. A stigma exists that asking for help means that a mom or dad is not a good parent. Asking for help doesn’t mean someone is not a good parent. In fact, it is a sign of strength. Both moms and dads need to speak up and reverse the dangerous stigma associated with asking for help.

In turn, SAFEchild needs our community to stand with us. To reduce child abuse in Wake County, financial and volunteer support is vital.

Together, we can eliminate abuse and neglect and make Wake County safer for all children.

Marjorie Menestres has served as SAFEchild’s executive director since 1993.

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SAFEchild Executive Director Marjorie Menestres Named to Raleigh Hall of Fame



SAFEchild Executive Director Marjorie Menestres Named to Raleigh Hall of Fame

Marjorie Menestres, executive director of SAFEchild, the first agency devoted to providing direct child abuse prevention services to Wake County families, has been nominated for induction into the Raleigh Hall of Fame. SAFEchild is committed to eliminating child abuse in Wake County by helping adults and children create nurturing environments free from abuse and neglect. Menestres grew SAFEchild from a one-person organization to a 14-member staff and deftly manages a budget of more than $1.2 million.

Menestres is one of eight individuals and two organizations recognized for their contributions to North Carolina’s capital city with their induction into the Raleigh Hall of Fame. The Raleigh Hall of Fame, created in 2005 with support from the Raleigh City Council, celebrates individuals and non-profits that have left an indelible mark on the city through their activism and volunteerism. The public nominates inductees, and celebrants are selected by an anonymous committee. The induction ceremony and gala is scheduled for October 6, 2014 at the Raleigh Convention center.

SAFEchild has benefited from Menestres’ position at the helm for 20 years. She has demonstrated remarkable leadership, dedication, and compassion. Under Marjorie’s guidance SAFEchild annually serves over 900 families through parenting programs and the SAFEchild Advocacy Center.


About SAFEchild

SAFEchild was established in 1992 by the Junior League of Raleigh. Reflecting its public position statement that “every child has the right to mature in an environment free from physical abuse and emotional neglect,” the Junior League voted to create a child abuse prevention agency to fill a gap in human service offerings in Wake County. Working closely with Wake County Social Services and dozens of other public and private agencies in the Wake County, the League incorporated SAFEchild as an independent agency. SAFEchild has operated as an independent agency since its third year. Many JLR members remain actively involved with SAFEchild as board members, volunteers, and individual donors.





WakeMed Foundation Announces Match Grant to SAFEchild


WakeMed Foundation is providing the SAFEchild Advocacy Center with a match grant of $50,000 a year for three years to help expand the comprehensive medical valuations for children who have been physically or sexually abused. In November 2010, SAFEchild opened the Advocacy Center with the noble mission of filling a wide gap in services to abused children. The Center provides critical comprehensive and integrated services for 300 sexually and physically abused children annually, ages birth to 17, and their nonoffending parents and siblings living in Wake County.

The Center is a national model for investigating, intervening, and treating child abuse in a community-based, child-focused facility using a multi disciplinary approach. Services at the Center include an evidenced-based forensic interview that ascertains the facts of the child’s victimization, a comprehensive medical exam and mental health and case management services that assure each child’s safety and wellbeing.

Jack Radford, executive director of the WakeMed Foundation said, “The important work being done at the Advocacy Center closely parallels WakeMed’s mission of providing outstanding and compassionate care to all who seek our services. We are delighted to partner with SAFEchild in the effort to expand the services needed to help victimized children begin to heal and hold perpetrators accountable.”

Learn more about WakeMed Children’s: The Next Phase to help pediatric patients here, or donate now to help SAFEchild earn the matching funds.

BCBSNC Invests in SAFEchild to Help Protect Wake County’s Children

From July 2011 to June 2012, Wake County officials documented more than 2,000 incidents of child abuse or neglect. As a step to help end this problem, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) will provide the SAFEchild Advocacy Center with an investment to help provide comprehensive medical evaluations to children who have been physically or sexually abused. SAFEchild is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating child abuse in Wake County.

“By supporting the SAFEchild Advocacy Center, we’re investing in North Carolina’s most important resource, our children,” said Kathy Higgins, BCBSNC vice president of Corporate Affairs. “The fantastic team at the Advocacy Center goes above and beyond to create a healing environment, and each staff member plays an important role in the health of our kids and our community.”

BCBSNC’s contribution will be used to fund salaries for medical staff members at the SAFEchild Advocacy Center, including:

  • Family nurse practitioner – This position supports the medical evaluation of 300 mistreated Wake County children, including individual, comprehensive medical assessments and treatment recommendations for each child.
  • Medical director – A medical director works side by side with the nurse family practitioner and two volunteer pediatric specialists to provide clinical supervision and oversight during the treatment of Triangle youth.

These positions provide medical findings to Wake County Child Protective Services social workers and law enforcement officers who are assigned to investigate child abuse cases. These findings play an instrumental role in reducing the risk of future incidents of abuse.

“Our funding partners are critical to the success of meeting the needs of sexually and physically abused children,” said Marjorie Menestres, SAFEchild executive director. “We are honored that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has invested in us.”

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to more than 3.74 million members, including approximately 1 million served on behalf of other Blue Plans. For generations, the company has served its customers by offering health insurance at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina was recognized as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute in 2012 and 2013. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For more information about how BCBSNC is supporting communities across the state, click here.

Kudos to Marjorie Menestres, SAFEchild executive director, Tar Heel of the Week!

Thanks to Marti Maguire, correspondent to The News & Observer, for an inspiring and informative story about Marjorie Menestres, Tar Heel of the Week (April 7, 2013). Marjorie was hired as SAFEchild’s first executive director 20 years ago this week.

By Marti Maguire — Correspondent

When she had her first child, Marjorie Menestres was thousands of miles away from her closest relative in a country where she barely spoke the language.

It was a challenging time, and one that sparked in her a passion for helping parents that has driven her work as the founding director of SAFEchild, Wake County’s only child abuse prevention program.

Menestres, 61, started SAFEchild 20 years ago as its sole employee with a budget of $75,000 provided by the Junior League of Raleigh. She now oversees 16 employees and up to 300 volunteers at a self-sustaining organization with a $1.3 million budget that serves 900 families a year.

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and SAFEchild will be conducting several events and fundraisers, including the Walk to Prevent Child Abuse 5K Walk on April 20.

More than 130,000 children were reported as abused or neglected in North Carolina each of the past two years, according to state statistics compiled from local social service departments. In Wake County, more than 2,000 such cases were confirmed in the fiscal year ending in July 2011, including two deaths.

Many more instances of abuse go unreported. The problem spans all social groups but is more likely to occur in families where other risk factors exist, such as a history of abuse of a parent, social isolation, or financial worries.

SAFEchild’s central focus is to prevent abuse by helping parents successfully navigate all of the pressures of child-rearing. SAFEchild offers classes and mentoring for parents and children at its offices, at schools and in homes – providing the kind of support Menestres learned firsthand is so important.

“Parenting is the most important job that we have for which we are the least prepared,” she says. “At the time we started, a parent had to hurt their child before they could get any help.”

SAFEchild’s programming has expanded steadily as Menestres and her staff seek new ways to help children.

“Marjorie has had a positive impact on the lives of countless children and families,” says former SAFEchild board chair Henry Campen, a lawyer with Parker Poe. “She has a unique gift for leadership, which she has employed to inspire and mobilize literally hundreds of volunteers and donors over the years to nurture and protect the children of Raleigh and Wake County.”

Needing support

Menestres was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where her family moved into a post-World War II suburb that had been built among former potato fields. Her father ran a successful printing business that he eventually moved to the Triangle.

In college, Menestres chose to study special education because she had done volunteer work with children who had special needs while she was in high school, following in the footsteps of her mother, who was an avid volunteer for various causes.

She went first to a small New England school, Lesley College, but she ended up transferring to the University of Florida, where she earned a degree in education and social science that would have qualified her to teach social studies.

She decided to go to Israel after graduation instead, both for adventure and to explore her Jewish heritage. She stayed a year and a half, and met the man who would become her husband.

Upon returning to the U.S., she earned her master’s degree in counseling at the University of Florida. She married soon after, and moved to Belgium, her new husband’s home country.

She had her first child while she was there, and was stung by the isolation of caring for a newborn without the help of family or friends. She resolved to help other mothers when she got the chance.

“I was really socially isolated,” she says. “I had a real need for support, and I knew that not only did I not want to feel isolated, but I didn’t want other mothers to feel that way.”

She was also impressed with the country’s health care services, which included home visits to new mothers – an approach mirrored in SAFEchild’s “Welcome Baby” program.

Menestres soon moved back to Raleigh, where she volunteered with a parent-child support group through the Women’s Center of Wake County. She also earned a second master’s degree, this time in education from N.C. State University.

As her two sons grew older, she started looking for jobs that would mesh with her desire to help parents. Her first job was at WakeMed’s MELD program, which teaches parenting skills to first-time parents and teenage mothers.

In her nine years there, Menestres says she learned a lot about program development, volunteer management and other aspects of nonprofit work. She also earned a nonprofit management certificate from Duke University during that time.

So when she saw an opening for the director of an organization aimed at preventing child abuse, Menestres was a good fit for the job.

“I hit the jackpot with this job in being able to meld my personal values into my professional life,” she says.

Classes for parents

The Junior League had done extensive research to figure out what kind of services were lacking in Wake County. Child abuse prevention rose to the top of that list.

The league provided seed money for the organization, but it was up to Menestres to prove its relevance and find other funding sources.

After three years, SAFEchild was running independently of the league. It has since moved into its own office, in a historic home on Morgan Street near Hillsborough Street. In 2011, it opened a child advocacy center where sexually abused children can receive all the services they need under one roof.

Typically, SAFEchild brings established programs to local families, such as its parenting classes, which last from 11 to 15 weeks and include information on discipline, child development, anger management and other topics. Transportation, daycare, and dinner are provided to all participants.

Its “Welcome Baby” initiative pairs new moms with mentors who come to their homes. Another program in place at 50 schools throughout the county teaches students to recognize and report abuse.

The group created its own program for court-referred abusers, because no such program existed.

Some of the parenting classes are geared for specific groups, such as teenage mothers and victims of domestic violence. But others are intended to help anyone be a better parent – the preventative approach that Menestres has long embraced.

“There’s a lot of stigma about reaching out for help, and my goal is to make reaching out for help a sign of strength,” she says.

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