The Cheer for Children Ball, the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy’s 23rd annual fundraiser, has always raised awareness and funds to aid abused kids.

But this year, amid the #MeToo Movement and other news regarding sexual abuse, it’s taking on an even more important role.

“With everything going on with the #MeToo Movement and the (USA) gymnasts’ (testimony leading to the conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar for sexual assault), it allows us to provide a platform for victims of sexual abuse to speak out about their experiences,” said Zobida Dat, the center’s director of development, adding the ball is also a celebration of those it has helped and its backers. “What makes it really special is we’ve had longtime supporters of our organization come out and celebrate our accomplishments, the growth of our organization and ability to help kids locally.”

The Atlanta-based center, which aids abused children in DeKalb and Fulton counties, will host the ball Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at The Foundry at Puritan Mill in west Midtown. This year's theme is “A Masquerade Ball to Help Unmask Child Abuse,” and the event will include drinks, a buffet dinner provided the Atlanta Culinary Federation, live music by the Maxx Band and silent and live auctions.

“It’s tons of fun. … This is going to be the first year we’ve had a masquerade theme,” said Jana Chesley, the ball’s chair. “I think it’s more fun with an element of surprise involved. We’re working with Dean Crownover, the auctioneer, and we’ve incorporated some games into the program. We’ll have more heavy audience participation this year. We have some fantastic live auction items this year as well.”

While the ball is a fun way to celebrate the center, it remains serious in its mission, which is “to champion the needs of sexually and severely physically abused children through prevention, intervention, therapy and collaboration.”

Since opening in 1987, the center has served more than 16,000 children in Fulton and DeKalb counties who have been sexually or physically abused or have witnessed violence, at no cost to those families. Most recently, the center was instrumental in helping pass a law that made Georgia the 35th state to require child sexual abuse education in schools.

“We serve about 750 children annually, and we have trained over 113,000 adults on sexual abuse prevention in the state of Georgia since 2006,” said Dat, a Loganville resident who has worked at the center for four and a half years.

The 2017 ball raised a net of $220,000, and the center hopes to raise a net of at least $230,000 this year, as part of a three-year strategic plan, Chesley said. As the center’s biggest annual fundraiser, the ball is crucial to its operations.

“It’s extremely important,” Dat said. “We have seen an increase of over 21 percent in demand for our services at the center this year alone. To be able to meet the demand, we really rely on community support to continue to grow and continue to help the families we serve.”

Chesley, a Brookhaven resident and a center board member, said she got involved with the organization four years ago after meeting Karla Sadler, the center’s then-board chair, at a Junior League of Atlanta meeting.

“She was just telling me about the work the center does,” she said. “At that time, I had just gone back to work after (being on) maternity leave with my first child. I just got really emotional and knew I needed to volunteer. The first thing I did was attend the ball as a guest. Eventually I went to tour the center and took their training, which gave me more information about the work they do, and I eventually joined the board of directors.”

Chesley, who has two children, said the center’s impact on abused kids is immeasurable.

“It truly makes positive difference in the lives of many abused children,” she said. “In many cases the work we do actually stops the cycle of abuse of children and their families. To me I feel like one person cannot change the world, but by volunteering for the center, you can make a difference. The most vulnerable population of (metro) Atlanta is abused children.”

Tickets to the ball are $200, and tables and sponsorship opportunities range from $500 to $25,000. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.cheerforchildren.org.

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