Muralist’s work at Dawson Place helps abused children feel safe

EVERETT — Beige walls are being transformed into bright underwater seascapes, rolling hillsides and sturdy trees. A puppy and kitten and bees and birds share space on walls in the medical examination room.

A lot of healing can go on between those colorful walls. Kids can feel safe and they are taught that it’s not their fault that bad things happened to them.

Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center in Everett has been getting a facelift thanks to some support from Boeing and Amazon employees.

The center received a $40,000 grant from the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound. The money was used to hire muralist Mozelle Spencer, who is turning drab office walls into works of art.

Dawson Place also was the first recipient of Amazon’s Local Love project. During the summer more than 100 volunteers painted, upgraded bathrooms and improved recording equipment. The volunteers logged more than 450 hours sprucing up the center.

The work has transformed Dawson Place, making it more inviting, Executive Director Lori Vanderburg said.

It’s not going unnoticed by the center’s small visitors.

“I said to myself, ‘I like this place,’ ” a little girl was overheard saying as she walked down the hall with a child interview specialist.

The girl is one of 1,250 children who visit Dawson Place each year.

The majority of the kids who walk through the door are victims of sexual abuse. The center also treats physically abused kids, neglected and drug endangered children and juveniles who have witnessed violence.

The advocacy center was created to coordinate comprehensive services for children and their families, all in one location. Detectives, medical professionals, prosecutors, therapists and others providing services to victims all work under the same roof to limit the stress for crime victims.

Dawson Place staff provide medical exams, community advocacy, preventative education, mental health assessments and counseling. The center also includes those involved in the criminal justice system, including Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives, deputy prosecutors, interview specialists and state caseworkers.

The center moved to its current location in 2010.

The new paint and murals are welcome additions to a place that can be frightening for children, who often are asked to talk about the abuse they’ve endured.

“We want to make it as good of an experience as possible,” said Matt McLaughlin, the center’s director of development.

The community support also means the nonprofit can spend more on expanding services for kids instead of buying paint and hiring plumbers.

“We can focus on kids and their families,” Vanderburg said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; Twitter: @dianahefley/

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