Jackson County Child Abuse Network organizers celebrated Thursday after getting word they had received two "amazing" Christmas gifts in the form of grants totalling $100,000.

Jackson County Child Abuse Network organizers celebrated Thursday after getting word they had received two "amazing" Christmas gifts in the form of grants totalling $100,000.

The three-year $50,000 grants from the Oregon Community Foundation and the Ford Family Foundation will help the CAN to raise community awareness, provide foster education and prevent children from being abused, said Dee Anne Everson, director of United Way of Jackson County and a leader of the multi-agency network.

"CAN is aptly named. We can make it better for every single kid and every single community member," Everson said, adding the grants each will pay out $25,000 the first year, $15,000 the second and $10,000 the third.

Mary-Curtis Gramley, director of the Family Nurturing Center, which provides respite nursery care for parents in crisis, said the money "is truly among the many miracles that this season has brought."

"Not only will these grants provide support for our work, but also make possible things we probably haven't yet even dreamed of," Gramley said. "A future when all children will be able to grow up in safe and nurturing homes seems much closer to reality today."

In January 2009 Everson vowed to "change the way we deal with child abuse in this county" after serving on a grand jury and hearing several stories of child abuse from the victims.

She said she was "forever changed" — especially after hearing one little girl struggling to explain her horrific tale of sexual abuse.

CAN was created in April of that year. The group includes private individuals and representatives from 33 organizations, including health officials, early childhood education specialists, drug and alcohol counselors, child advocates, police detectives, the district attorney's office and local media.

Group members are asking tough questions about the way the system currently protects children — or doesn't protect them — and what must be changed. Members have been examining the problem on three fronts: current procedures, prevention and community education. The goal is to coordinate prevention and response efforts across all agencies, and also educate the community about the epidemic of child abuse, Everson said.

"I am going to do one thing every day for the rest of my life to make this go away," Everson said.

In 2009 five children died each day from abuse and neglect across the United States, according to a report from the Every Child Matters Education Fund. Every eight minutes, a child was abused in Oregon. One in four children in Jackson County suffered from abuse or neglect, said Marlene Mish, director of the Children's Advocacy Center.

"We've been having seven children coming in a day this past month," Mish said. "These are kids who are getting hurt through the holiday season."

The grants give CAN the power to kick up the public awareness aspect of the "Don't Turn Away" campaign — a collaborative effort of CAN, the Mail Tribune and KOBI Channel 5.

"Prevention is number one," Mish said. "This is the break we've been needing to make a loud and clear statement."

Mish often speaks publicly on the topic of child abuse, talks that regularly turn up stories from adults who were victimized as children.

"I have never done a speech where someone didn't come up to me and say, 'This happened to me,'" Mish said. "We are not evolved if we (abuse of our children). There are animals who protect their young better than we do."

Ashland resident Randy Ellison is member of CAN and an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. Ellison told the story of his abuse before representatives of the Ford Foundation and the Oregon Community Foundation.

"You could kind of see the blood drain from their faces," Ellison said. "But they converted that horror and outrage into action. They are jumping in the water with the CAN group and saying, 'Let's get this going.' They are not turning away."

Norm Smith, president of the Ford Family Foundation, and Amy Cuddy, fund coordinator for the Oregon Community Foundation, said the CAN collaboration is vital to a communitywide effort to address an issue of critical importance.

The OCF grant comes through the William and Florence Schneider Fund, Cuddy said.

"Children who were hurting were very near and dear to their heart," Cuddy said of the Schneiders, an Ashland couple who supported many charitable efforts. "We felt they would approve of CAN's efforts to assure there are fewer hurting children in our community."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.