Kathi Roark has two passions: service and children.

And her job as executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol/Washington County, allows her to combine the two.

“I started as a volunteer member for the board of directors in 1998, and here I am still here 14 years later,” said Roark, who has held the position for eight years.

She says her upbringing in her hometown of Long Island, N.Y., is what made her want to volunteer and help meet the needs of others in the community.

“I was raised that giving back and service is what you did. My grandmother was a big inspiration to me. She was the kind of person who would plop herself in the state senator’s office and demand things get fixed,” she said.

It was witnessing the effects of child abuse on a family member that really led Roark to want to work to help victims.

“Seeing the first-hand effects of child abuse really pushed me to want to become the voice for children in Southwest Virginia and protect them,” Roark said.

She said it was a twist of fate that brought her to the region.

“I came to Bristol to attend Virginia Intermont College, originally for the equine program. During that time, I met my husband and fell in love not only with him, but the beautiful area,” Roark said. “After some hardcore thinking, I changed majors and ended up with my degree in management and leadership.”

Years later, Roark was elected to serve as a member of the Washington County School Board in Abingdon. Soon after her term ended, she continued to volunteer with the Children’s Advocacy Center until the previous executive director retired in the summer of 2004.

“Soon after Kay retired, everyone told me I should apply for the director position due to my passion for wanting to help children through abusive situations,” Roark said.

At the time Roark took over as executive director, the center was just getting started in the Mountain Empire region.

“Everything we do is designed to minimize the stress on the children and do excellent work on their behalf,” Roark said.

Passion is the one thing that keeps her going to work each morning. She said she’s seen a lot of special moments over the years.

“I get to see the children in all phases while they come to the center. From the time they’re timid walking through the door to seeing them happy just by getting in the floor and playing with them. I truly love what I do,” Roark said. “I really support the concept of making things better for the children. I would like to see us work ourselves out of business.”

This past January in Richmond, Roark had the opportunity to advocate for the Bristol center, as well as other centers across the state.

“I was able to go and say, ‘Look here’s the outcomes we’ve had. We have made the community safer, and the kids are doing better due to our efforts,’ ” she said.

Roark’s answer was simple, when asked about the long-term goals for the program: “I want to see this program be replicated and made available to other parts of Southwest Virginia. The rate of child abuse in this area is higher than any other part of the state.”

Roark said many work together to help make the center a success.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” she added. “I feel blessed and honored to be a part of this special organization and all of the services we provide for the children throughout the region. We consider ourselves the dream team.”

Reprinted with permission by:  Jim Maxwell, Bristol Herald Courier

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