Kay Perkins has held a variety of titles throughout her career: teacher, principal, family advocate. Yet the one she likes best is simply "Miss Kay" — that's what she's called by the hundreds of children she's worked with over the years, serving as a mentor, a listener, and a friend when they need it most.
Perkins soon will be retiring from Heart 2 Heart Child Advocacy Center in Newton after 11 years of service.
"It was a perfect job for me, and I've loved it," she said. "... It's just been a tremendous ride. It's been fulfilling on my part. There hasn't been a day that's gone by where I've gone home and felt like I haven't made a difference."
"She's been there to support me all the way and give good advice," said Marlene Beeson-Lemmer, executive director of Heart 2 Heart. "She's been an incredible mentor for me. She's a community treasure."
Heart 2 Heart serves child victims of abuse and assists local communities in responding to allegations of child abuse. According to the organization's website, Heart 2 Heart was established in 2000 through the efforts of Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton and Lori Hardin, of the Newton Social Rehabilitation Service Department. Walton and Hardin had done many interviews with children who had been victims of abuse, and they realized these types of interviews were extremely difficult for children and the environment where the interviews were conducted needed to be improved.
Perkins, who also has worked for USD 373, joined Heart 2 Heart in 2002 and is known as a "family advocate." When abuse victims are brought in to the center, they meet with her first. Perkins will play a game with the child to help them feel safe and comfortable before they are interviewed. Perkins also talks to the parents of the children; sometimes, the mothers will tell her they also have been victims of abuse, and this is the first time they've disclosed that.
"That's sometimes very revealing," Perkins said. "... They've just held it in all those years."
Serving as a family advocate can be a difficult, emotionally-taxing job, and Perkins has witnessed many heart-breaking stories of abuse. Yet she finds fulfillment in helping those victims get a fresh start in life, and her work stretches across county, even state lines.
"We can give them a boost," she said. "They feel better, I'm hoping, when they leave. ... We say that we're the first step to healing."
She's enjoyed working with the center's multi-disciplinary team of partners — law enforcement, Prairie View, Health Ministries, Newton Medical Center, the county attorney's office and more — and said it won't be easy to say goodbye.
"They are fantastic," she said. "They work together unbelievably well. We think we've got the best in the state. That's going to be a little difficult to leave."
Although she's retiring, Perkins plans to stay busy. She will be working at the county attorney's office as a volunteer advocate for children going to court.
Beeson-Lemmer said Perkins certainly will be missed at the Heart 2 Heart office.
"This is not an easy time for any of us to say goodbye to an era here," she said. "... She's been an inspiration for all of us."
Heart 2 Heart will host a retirement reception for Perkins from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday at the Newton Law Enforcement Center training room.