Tuesday, May 12, 2015 –SAFEchild has named Cristin DeRonja, a long-time SAFEchild employee and advocate in preventing child abuse in Wake County, as its new executive director, replacing Marjorie Menestres, who announced in January she would retire.
“We are thrilled Cristin will become SAFEchild’s new executive director,” said Pat Wilkins, president of SAFEchild’s board of directors. “Cristin has been with the agency for 11 years, touching a wide variety of SAFEchild programs, from Funny Tummy Feelings to the SAFEchild Advocacy Center. Her long history and commitment to SAFEchild and its mission, as well as her intimate knowledge of the agency, made her the stand-out candidate to fill Marjorie’s shoes.”
DeRonja started working at SAFEchild in 2004 as a counseling intern and group facilitator mentoring new mothers in the Welcome Baby program and presenting Funny Tummy Feelings to first-graders at Wake County schools. Over the years, she worked her way up through the agency, launching SAFEchild’s Circle of Parents program, a nationally recognized mutual support and self-help program that prevents child abuse by strengthening families. She also developed and led training workshops for SAFEchild staff and for Prevent Child Abuse of N.C. That experience led her in 2010 to become the director of SAFEchild’s newly created Advocacy Center, a child-friendly community-based facility providing medical evaluations and advocacy support for children reported for sexual and physical abuse.
Since opening, the Advocacy Center has grown from evaluating 10 children a month to more than 24 children a month, with conservative growth of the overall operational budget. Under DeRonja’s leadership, the Center’s medical team has been expanded by recruiting volunteer physicians,who donate their expertise, and negotiating contracts with UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University to provide additional medical staff.
DeRonja has worked alongside Menestres helping to secure sustainable funding from corporations, foundations, civic, community and faith-based groups, individual donors and public and private grants. She also has helped assist in medical evaluations, working with alleged child victims, non-offending caregivers, child protection social workers and law enforcement officers regarding suspected abuse.
“There is no other place in this world I would rather share my heart and soul than SAFEchild,” DeRonja said. “Fortunately, we are not starting completely over but we are beginning a new chapter of the SAFEchild story.”
When DeRonja takes over in July, she will be the agency’s second executive director. Menestres was hired in 1993 just after the agency was formed by the Junior League of Raleigh as the first and only agency in Wake County devoted to providing direct child abuse prevention services to area families. In just three years after the agency began, Menestres was able to spin out SAFEchild from the Junior League into an independent agency that has since grown to 14 staff members and an operating budget of $1.2 million.
Thanks to Menestres’ vision and fundraising skills, SAFEchild in 2002 moved debt-free to its current location on Morgan Street. In 2009, Menestres oversaw the opening of the SAFEchild Advocacy Center.
DeRonja, who also has worked as a college advisor and an assistant dean of students, has a master’s degree of education in counseling from N.C. State University and an undergraduate degree in human and organizational development from Vanderbilt University. She also has completed graduate studies in community agency counseling at Georgia State University.