After 293 days, the Niceville Campus of Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) has reopened. It can serve the vulnerable and abused children of Okaloosa County.
On May 5th, the building reopened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and musical entertainment by the Ruckel Ambassadors.
“We live in a great community,” said Solange Arnett, a leader with ECCAC, “They’ve rallied around us and supported us.”
As a part of the renovation – the building was renamed after ECCAC’s leader of almost a quarter century, Julie Porterfield.
“I tried to talk them out of it,” Porterfield said with a laugh at the opening ceremony.
The center rechristened various parts of the restored building after the people and groups who helped the ECCAC continue their mission to advocate for children sexually or physically abused in Okaloosa County.
The facility was built by Randy Wise 23 years ago – and construction operations were managed once again by Luke Philpot – the same foreman who brought the original building into being in the early 2000s. For their efforts, the center named the Pathway of Courage – which every child must walk down to tell their story for the court – after the two men.
“We’re so happy to see this building back,” Philpot said to the crowd of about 100 who came to see the ribbon cutting, “It’s a beacon to this community. Julie Porterfield’s heart was for her staff and the children of Okaloosa County. We had to deal with a supply and workforce shortage to get [the rebuild after the fire] done. And COVID,” he added.”Randy told me, it doesn’t matter, take care of it- and the involvement we got from the community shows what kind of community we live in here in Niceville, Florida.”
“I pray God’s blessing on this building – that it can continue to be the beacon it is to our community,” Philpot said at the end of his remarks.
Other parts of the facilities were named after Crosspoint Church, which allowed the ECCAC staffers to conduct victim interviews in their facilities, and Alan McGinnis – the original architect, died from cancer several years ago.
Members of the State attorney’s office and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) also work within the facility. While the different representatives of the groups were scattered to the four winds while the facility was rebuilt – the work became much more complicated – due to the close nature of the work law enforcement, social workers, victim advocates, child psychologists, and ECCAC members perform.
Chief Deputy Kenneth LaPee of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office noted that so much had changed since he and Sheriff Eric Aden were new deputies in the early 90s – thanks to this facility and the work that several agencies who are colocated there do. “No one in this community understand this need [for the ECCAC] like we do,” he said, “We encounter people who are broken. People in need of love and compassion and service. When we started, this facility was a dream. We would talk about how we didnt have a place where we could talk to people and get them the help they need. Now, we have this place.”
Despite the rebuild – the agencies needed by the children in crisis of Okaloosa County have needed this facility. This is a need demonstrated by how quickly the building has returned to full-time use. “This has been a really busy week for us,” said Angela Viramontes – with DCF, “We have kids [in the newly remodeled facility] right now. We’re going to make sure they are surrounded by love.