The Children's Advocacy Center of Jackson County announced Wednesday that its nationwide search for a new director is over.

The Children's Advocacy Center of Jackson County announced Wednesday that its nationwide search for a new director is over.

Tammi Pitzen of Colorado Springs will step into the shoes of former Executive Director Marlene Mish, said Charlie Baggett, a member of the group's board.

"We're happy to have found somebody with all the experience in dealing with child abuse that we feel will fit into our community and continue our role in helping abused children," Baggett said.

Pitzen has spent the past 23 years working in the area of child abuse investigation and advocacy. She has been a program manager at Safe Passages, a similar child advocacy organization in Colorado Springs, for the past 11 years, Baggett said.

Pitzen received a "100 percent vote" of approval by the board, having gone through a lengthy interview process by the board and staff members, as well as passing thorough background and reference checks, he said.

Baggett said Pitzen was unable to attend a CAC fundraising luncheon Wednesday because she was testifying on behalf of an abused child in Colorado. But, he said, she would be at the helm of the center by November.

Baggett said the new director would have a tough act to follow in Mish, who stepped down from her position on June 19. Mish expanded the mentoring program provided by CAC for clients who have come through the center. She became the first person in Southern Oregon qualified to train Darkness to Light instructors for the Stewards of Children program, Baggett said.

Pitzen was selected from a host of applicants, with some residing in Jackson County and others applying from across the state and nation, he said.

The CAC also welcomed a new chief medical officer this year. Dr. Natalya Miller, a Medford pediatrician formerly with Community Health Center, took over for Dr. Kerri Hecox, who joined the center in 2008.

Hecox resigned in February but continued working with Miller through June, helping her with local child-abuse victims. The specially trained physicians use noninvasive techniques in CAC's homelike setting, she said.

"We give children a chance to tell their stories in a warm and safe place," Miller said at the Wednesday luncheon.

Jackson County's CAC opened its doors in 1991, and has served more than 16,000 abused and neglected children since its inception, Miller said.

Last year the center served about 1,000 children. This year Hecox and Miller saw 414 cases of neglect, 66 cases of physical abuse and 48 cases of sexual abuse, she said.

Miller cited the sobering act that about 1,500 children die from child abuse each year. That means more than four children die each day from abuse, Miller said.

Seventeen Oregon children died from child abuse last year, she said. Twelve of them were under the age of 5. Five of the children were less than 1 year old, she said. Eighty percent of the perpetrators are parents, she said.

"I've seen (children) die from child abuse," Miller said. "It's very painful to hear these stories. But these have been real parents of mine, and these children need a voice."

Board member Bob Crow praised Miller's courage and commitment.

"She is powerfully gifted," Crow said. "Why does she do what she does? It's not because of the money. It's because of her heart."

Crow urged those attending Wednesday's fundraiser to give generously to support the CAC. He recounted the words of a pastor friend from Texas, who said you can tell where your heart is by looking at where you spend your money.

"Do you want to know what's important to you? Open your checkbook," Crow said.

To learn more about the CAC, visit or call 541-734-5437.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail