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A safe haven for kids

By A Treasure Coast essay by Paul Janensch


Fort Pierce, FL – A soft-spoken woman named LaVaughn Tilton was shocked that a six-year-old boy had died at the hands of his own father. And so in 1985 she brought together about a dozen people to set up a safe place for abused, neglected and abandoned children in Martin County. The result was the Hibiscus Children's Center. On Thursday, in a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the center's inception, its facility in Jensen Beach will be named the "Tilton Family Children's Shelter" in honor of its founder. In 1989, the 24-hour emergency shelter started with six boys and six girls. Today it holds up to 40 children in 12 bedrooms. It is the Treasure Coast's only licensed emergency shelter for abused children through age 12. The Hibiscus Children's Center also operates a children's village in Vero Beach with seven group homes. It recruits and trains foster parents, offers mental health care and maintains a prevention program for families in crisis. In a typical month, the Hibiscus Children's Center serves more than one thousand children in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties. The center has 200 employees and is supported by 600 volunteers. They all admire LaVaughn Tilton for her vision. She may be soft-spoken, but, as we can see, she can also be determined. For 88.9 FM this is Paul Janensch.

Treasure Coast essayist Paul Janensch was a newspaper editor and taught journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.