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Children's Advocacy Center Working To Bring Smiles To Abuse Survivors At Christmas

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - At the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, volunteers are scrambling to fill holiday wish lists for some 2,000 severely abused children.

Many have been sexually abused, others turned witnesses to violence, been handed heartache that they didn't deserve: so the effort dubbed 'Holiday of Hope' hopes to give them a Christmas marked by normalcy and maybe a little joy.

"When the caregivers are coming to pick up packages, they cry and they hug us and they're so grateful," says Becky Aguilar, Director of Community Engagement. "They tell us if it wasn't for this, their kids would go without on Christmas Day."

Dallas Children's Advocacy Center gift drive for Christmas
Dallas Children's Advocacy Center gift drive for Christmas (CBS 11)

When it comes to child abuse, experts say more often than not, the person responsible is no stranger.

"Parents don't want to hear that," says Carrie Paschall, Chief Investigative & Support Services Officer. "We want to believe that it's the stranger and it's the scary person out on the street that is going to harm our children, but  in reality it's the people that we know, love and trust. Our family members, our neighbors, our friends. And that's an uncomfortable reality, but it is a reality."

So staffers want to deliver a warning to parents before their children are handed a life sentence of managing the aftermath: be present and be pro-active in protecting them, especially during the holidays.

According to Paschall, it's important to talk to children and help them to establish boundaries, then empower them to enforce them.

"So if they're uncomfortable giving a family member or friend a hug, don't make them do that," explains Paschall. "Let them speak up and have a voice. That's how kids learn to protect themselves."

She says that means making sure children know they can tell on anyone and then believe them when they do. And don't believe that danger can come only from adults.  Juvenile offenders might also find their way into your holiday mix. Stay alert.

If you'd like to fill a holiday wish list for an abused child, click here.

The DCAC will collect toys until December 14.

"If you can imagine the turmoil of abuse and maybe your family kind of being separated for whatever reason, being able to have a normal 'kid' moment and have gifts and toys and maybe a new bicycle on Christmas Day," says Aguilar. "There's nothing you can say to explain how special that is for our kids and our families."



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