‘I’m Not Just a Name Children’s Resource Center’

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Noticias Locales

By: Ashmar Mandou

Established last April, “I’m Not Just a Name Children’s Resource Center” is a private, nonprofit founded by Chicago Police Officer Monica Lopez with a mission to prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation. Lopez further discussed her organization with Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper this week and how it aims to help families.

Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper: What circumstance occurred in your life that compelled you to create I’m Not Just a Name Children’s Resource Center?

Monica Lopez: During my 21 years working with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) I’ve handled numerous reports for missing children; most of them for habitual runaways. Then, a little over 9 years ago, a guest speaker from the Salvation Army PROMISE Human Trafficking Task Force caught my attention as she spoke to community members in the 13th District about the growing epidemic of human trafficking in the United States. Interested, I began to research training seminars for law enforcement officers and came upon a training “Protecting Your Children Online” presented by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. From that point forward, I have traveled and attended seminars to learn as much as I can about missing and exploited children, as I feel we owe it to these parents to help them protect their children. Nine years ago, I also became a member of the Salvation Army PROMISE Task Force and have used my personal time and funds to attend various additional trainings from several other organizations as well to further my knowledge from different perspectives. I also started working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and an alliance was formed to open a local center in Chicago.

From your standpoint, how has the organization brought more attention to the missing and/or exploitation of children in the community since its inception, last year?

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Noticias Locales

Since our inception last year, our organization has been able to share and display hundreds of photographs of missing children from Illinois on storefront windows in businesses throughout Chicago. This was done through our “Community Missing Poster Distribution” events in local Chicago business districts. In fact, all of our volunteers, including myself, carry posters with us at all times so that if we happen upon a new location to display our posters, we can ask for permission (which is usually granted) to post the missing posters there as well. We also have a Facebook page where we share news articles pertaining to our cause; and where we share hundreds of posters of missing children from Illinois and all around the country. In addition to the poster sharing, our center co-hosted a law enforcement training on November 20, 2015 at the Chicago Police Academy for 84 officers and supervisors including Cook County, Niles and the FBI task force located at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Chicago.

How does the resource center work with the community to promote its mission?

INJANCRC works with the community to promote our mission by participating in community meetings and informing community members about our Center and make them aware of the services we provide. These meetings also allow us to network and book future presentations and Child ID Kit events. We also work with the community through our “Missing Children Poster Distribution” events as this gives us a chance to also make business owners aware of the problems that exist with our missing children. We are able to ask them to participate in helping us recover missing children by displaying their pictures on their storefront windows and break rooms in the hopes that somebody will recognize one of these children.

How exactly does the resource center help those who walk through the doors?

The Resource Center is not fully staffed yet to encourage walk-ins; although one of our future goals is to be able to also provide a safe haven for those who may need immediate help with a current situation they are in. Currently though, we are performing various outreach programs, presentations and services to get community members, parents, and law enforcement members educated, aware and informed about missing and exploited children, what we are doing and how they can help with our mission.

Will INJANCRC host workshops to educate communities in the future?

Yes. INJANCRC utilizes a volunteer staff that is expanding every day and it is with their help, as well as various community leaders that we are working to continue to educate, inform and get the message out about what we are trying to do to decrease the growing number of Missing & Exploited Children. We are making new contacts and forming liaisons that should allow us access to every law enforcement agency, neighborhood group meetings / community meetings, schools, day care centers, etc., so that we can educate and inform those that deal with children who may be victims of exploitation. We are more than anxious to plan workshops, child safety presentations, and presentations that include abduction prevention, online safety and human trafficking. With the opening of our new resource center and the increase to our volunteer staff, our calendar is filling up nicely. We welcome community members to contact us so that we can get these presentations out to all communities throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

What do you love most about your job?

There are so many things that I love about this job especially since I am very passionate about educating and informing community members about the growing epidemic of missing and exploited children. But, what I truly enjoy is knowing that our group can make a difference just by talking to members of the community, opening their eyes just a little more to what’s happening in society today; and knowing that they might start to see things from a different perspective. I love getting their feedback after a meeting or presentation and listening to them talk about wanting to get involved. Also, knowing that I am out there working to try to make a difference for that next victim, and hoping that community members walk away with the information that may just save their child’s life or the life of another child. I welcome the opportunity to inform and educate others about what’s happening out there so that they are more prepared.

“I’m Not Just a Name Children’s Resource Center,” will hold their second annual fundraiser at the Fraternal Order of Police Hall, 1412 W. Washington Blvd., at 3p.m. Tickets are $20. Proceeds will benefit the organization’s mission.

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