This year, 2016, marks 40 years since the CAPS mission – to prevent child abuse in Elkhart County – officially began. For the rest of the year, we will be sharing a few stories about some of the people who were there at the beginning, working to ensure that all kids have a safe, healthy and happy childhood.
Michigan natives Prudy Holzhausen and husband Dennis had decided to move back to the Midwest after some time living in New Jersey with their two young children in the mid-1970s. Dennis quit his job, sold the house in a week, put a pin in the map and moved the family to Elkhart.
Driving into Elkhart for the first time, Prudy wasn’t sure she liked what she was seeing.
“I cried as we came into Elkhart,” Prudy said. “We were on this two-lane road – it was Cassopolis Street – mobile homes everywhere, mud, no curbs. I said to my husband, ‘ohhh, this is where you’re bringing me to live?’”
Over time, though, Prudy would fall in love with this small town.
A stay-at-home mom and homemaker, she saw an article in The Elkhart Truth in January 1975 about a group meeting at the YMCA to discuss child abuse prevention. She thought it seemed like a worthwhile effort and decided to attend the meeting.
There, she said, a psychologist spoke to the assembled group about child abuse. He told them that it helps to understand why you are interested in this subject before you begin as a volunteer. One by one, the group shared stories about why they wanted to volunteer in the child abuse prevention field.
“There were several people who were actually crying,” Prudy said. “They really didn’t realize why they were there until they talked about it. My mother left when I was 12. I came home from school one day and she was gone. But at the time, I didn’t think of that as the reason, this just felt like something that should be done.”
It was at that meeting that Prudy met some of the core members of the child abuse task force, including Ruth Gattman. From that day forward, Prudy started attending all of the meetings, volunteering at first to create the first newsletters on child abuse prevention programs, “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow.”
This early effort to raise awareness and gain support for the mission of the task force paid off when the United Way agreed to fund the first child abuse prevention coordinator in the county in late 1976, hiring Daryl Abbott, a caseworker at the department of welfare, to lead the way.
With Abbott on board, the first programs started to gain traction, including the Parent Aide program. Prudy volunteered in that program in addition to her growing role in public relations and promotional efforts.
“We put a lot of articles in the paper asking for volunteers,” Prudy said. “We were reaching out to these parents, going to their homes. We would get some referrals for the Parent Aide program from the hospital, some new mothers who really did not know how to mother at all. They didn’t know how to heat up a bottle, change a diaper, even pick up a baby.”
In 1980, Prudy and a fellow volunteer, Kathy Freese, went to Seattle and Toledo, Ohio, respectively, to research an emerging program called CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates. At the time, those two cities were the seats of the only two CASA programs in the nation.
“The woman I talked to out in Washington was so fantastic to talk to,” Prudy said. “She sent me back with tons of information on how to get a CASA program set up.”
Between Prudy, Kathy and several key members of the legal system in Elkhart County including juvenile referee Mona Biddlecome and lawyer Cece McGregor, the first CASA program in the state of Indiana emerged officially in 1983. Prudy and Kathy were two of the first five CASAs to be sworn in to represent children in the court system.
Prudy’s first case involved an infant who had bone fractures in several areas of his body. When the accused explained the injuries as a result of the baby rolling off the couch, Prudy went to the home and noted that the couch rose little more than a foot off the ground, nowhere near high enough to cause the infant’s injuries.
To add to her roles as PR manager, Parent Aide and now CASA, Prudy was also instrumental as a volunteer coordinator in those early days of the organization. She recruited Parent Aides, child care helpers, and high school students in need of service hours for class credit to organize files and, in some cases, unwrap LifeSaver candies.
“I was sitting with Daryl one time and we were talking about what we could do as a fundraiser,” Prudy said. “The Elkhart Truth was laying there on the desk and it was open to the Lifesaver column they used to do, people would write in with questions or problems and get answers. Daryl and I both looked over at it and said, ‘that’s it, it’s Lifesavers.’”
The CAPS Lifesaver campaign became a popular and much-emulated fundraiser. Dozens of volunteers hit the streets each spring for 28 years to collect change and distribute child abuse prevention information and LifeSaver candies to people, hence the need for students to unwrap LifeSavers.
“Grant Anglemyer, the pharmacist at Judd Drug at the time, he provided our first batch of the LifeSavers,” Prudy said. “They came in these packs, like for Christmas or Easter, all wrapped in cellophane. The basement of (the house on Hively Avenue CAPS occupied at the time) was hysterical because it was just packed full of cardboard and cellophane.”
The common thread throughout the more than 13 years that Prudy was involved with child abuse prevention programs in Elkhart County was the wonderful people she met and worked alongside.
“The people here were so great, are so great,” Prudy said. “Daryl turned out to be such a good friend. Doing all this was a nice way to meet people and still do something for the good of everyone.”