2021 Good Neighbor Award Winner
An 11-year-old girl was brought to The Children’s Place, a child advocacy center in Wasilla, Alaska, after she’d been sexually abused by a relative. The team interviewed her and conducted an exam, the case was prosecuted, and the relative went to jail. About a year later, the girl herself called the center—hiding in her closet with her cell phone. She asked for her advocate, saying, “I need help. It’s happening again—with a different relative.”
Though this story is distressing, it’s a great example of the impact of—and need for—The Children’s Place.
“Our center created this very safe space for this girl, and she knew where to get help,” explains Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, M.D., the center’s founder and medical director. “We were able to get law enforcement and child protection involved immediately and get her out of that situation.”
This difficult work takes vision, community support, and funding to succeed. Thanks to two decades of passionate commitment, REALTOR® Kibe Lucas has helped ensure that the nonprofit fulfills its mission.
Lucas initially got involved in The Children’s Place in a twist of fate when Dr. Baldwin-Johnson saved his wife’s life by diagnosing a rare disease. Later, Baldwin-Johnson invited him to join the board of her new nonprofit. In the 20 years since, he’s held nearly every board position, raised more than $500,000, and recruited hundreds of volunteers.
Located 45 minutes outside of Anchorage, the nonprofit serves a 25,258-square-mile area—roughly the size of West Virginia. The Children’s Place offers hope and healing to children and families impacted by child abuse and neglect, providing a safe, neutral location and a coordinated community response. Clients also receive crisis intervention and referrals for mental health and medical treatment.
Before this nonprofit existed, children in abusive situations had nowhere to turn. Lucas recalls a family visiting a lodge he previously co-owned and noticing the five kids were strangely quiet, almost afraid. Years later, he discovered that the father had gone to prison for abusing the girls. Then Lucas learned that one of the girls had committed suicide. “I knew in my heart she did that because she never had a place to go like The Children’s Place,” recalls Lucas. “She never got the help she needed. That impacted me.”
Sexual abuse, physical abuse, child neglect—they’re all dirty little secrets that evoke discomfort.
“This is a nonprofit that isn’t easy to talk about,” explains Michelle Bayless, the center’s executive director. “We witness the worst side of humanity. The work we do is confidential, sensitive, and emotional.”
Building From the Ground Up
The original center was a small, old house in need of repair. “There [was] always talk about how we can only serve one family at a time, limiting our ability to be effective,” says Lucas. “If there are two or three incidents of child abuse, you can't have families sitting in a waiting room. It's a highly confidential environment.” Plus, it was a disjointed effort, as children and families had to visit multiple locations to see advocates, medical professionals, law enforcement, and counselors.
“I believe every single person has gifts and talents and resources they can share. Go find something to volunteer for, something that stirs your heart. We can all make a difference in our own small way.” —Kibe Lucas
Lucas tapped into his real estate background to secure a loan and buy a house for the organization. During construction of a much-needed addition, Lucas fervently talked about the positive impact the addition would have on the children. Touched by the mission, the contractor donated $30,000.
As the nonprofit outgrew that facility, Lucas met a developer and talked passionately about the center’s work. Following his “you don’t get what you don’t ask for” philosophy, Lucas asked, “Do you know anybody who might have a piece of land that would make us a deal or even donate?” Without hesitating, the man said, “I'll give you one.” Just like that, Lucas secured a $250,000 piece of property.
After years of planning and fundraising, the new facility opened in 2018. The building houses a multidisciplinary team, including state troopers, Children's Services staff, and onsite medical professionals.
Lucas has helped raise more than $500,000 through many different efforts. “To expand our donor base, Kibe helped create our annual golf tournament,” says Bayless. Long before the uber-optimistic TV character Ted Lasso came along, Lucas said “all we can do is win or learn” when launching that initial tournament. “His heart, energy, and positivity are infectious,” gushes Bayless.
It Takes a Village
Through his extensive network, Lucas has drawn in volunteers, donors, and other supporters, including fellow real estate professionals, local businesses, and clients. Bayless estimates Lucas has generated 5,000 volunteer hours through his ongoing advocacy and recruitment.
“Kibe is selfless, doing the right things for the right reasons,” says Bayless. “He gives his time, his money, his expertise, to do what he can to make this world better. We need more Kibe’s in this world.”
Lucas himself says, “I think the biggest thing I’ve done is speak from my heart about my passion for helping the most vulnerable members of our society. They are a precious resource. They’re our future.”
Measuring Lucas’ impact can best be summed up in the words of some of the children and parents helped at the center. When they first arrived, they felt scared, anxious, and confused. When they left? They felt relieved, heard—and safe. One parent poignantly confessed that what she appreciated most was “my child being reminded that it wasn't his fault.”