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January 26th, 2010 - Dean Anderson

Director works toward putting herself out of work



As the new executive director of the Mary Abbott Children\'s House Child Abuse response center in Norman, Way is charged with helping abused and neglected children pick up the pieces after their worlds have been shattered.

Ann Way loves her new job. Only thing is, she'd love it even more if it didn't exist.

As the new executive director of the Mary Abbott Children's House Child Abuse response center in Norman, Way is charged with helping abused and neglected children pick up the pieces after their worlds have been shattered.

Members of law enforcement - including the Cleveland County District Attorney's office, social services, and mental health and medical providers - converge on the Mary Abbott House in an effort to help cushion the aftermath of some of the most awful hurts children can go through.

"If it weren't for Mary Abbott House, these children would have to go through interview after interview after interview in not-always-hospitable situations. They would go to the police station, they would talk to the district attorney's office, they would go to the hospital," Way says.

But thanks to former Norman pediatrician Dr. Mary Abbott, the different disciplines come to the children.
Forensic interviews are conducted at the home in a child-friendly atmosphere. The interview is taped and then shared with all the various agencies. The house has six staff members, but a much larger team, Way says. Two detectives from the Norman Police Department, a deputy from the sheriff's department and typically two Department of Human Services workers operate out of the house.

A medical exam room is planned for the future, once funds become available, meaning children without acute medical needs can go directly to the home to begin the healing process.

Dec. 1, 2009, was Way's first day on the job after a 16-year career with Sarkeys Foundation. It was through the philanthropic organization that she first became acquainted with the children's home. On a good year, Way says Sarkeys handed out close to $5 million to local organizations - one of those being the Mary Abbott House.

"I was always attracted to their dedication. They have a very professional staff, and the multidisciplinary approach to serving children really caught my attention and my admiration," Way says. "You see the interaction between all the agencies, and the focus is on the child. Children come here to this Victorian home, which has been made very warm and inviting and child-friendly.

"They come often hesitantly. The interviewers do a beautiful job connecting with the children and having them tell their stories. The children leave almost with a sense of relief that they've been able to share this information."

The Mary Abbott House routinely sees more than 300 children each year, a number that keeps growing. Way says she would like to see the synergy continue during her tenure. She'd also like to retire someday because she's not needed.

"My hope is we'll go out of business," she says, "but that's not about to happen."
 
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