Medical students turn Santa’s helpers for Children’s Safe Center
Published on Monday, December 19, 2022
By: Annie Oeth, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC Communications
For second-year medical student Emily Davis and hundreds of children around the state, this Christmas will be memorable.
Teddy bears and footballs, fashion dolls and coloring books, sleepers for babies and T-shirts for teens – all these and more were collected for the Children’s of Mississippi Safe Center by student advocates for children who survived trauma, abuse or neglect.
The more than 800 toys were covering Davis’ living room floor until she and husband Andrew Bain rented a trailer to deliver the toys Thursday for the student group UMMC CARES, an acronym for Child Advocates Relentlessly Empowering Survivors.
“We’ve had toys shipped from around the country as well as from our UMMC CARES members,” said Davis, president and founder of the group, who grew up in Ripley and New Albany. “It’s felt like Christmas every day.”
Members of UMMC CARES, numbering more than 50, work to raise awareness of adverse childhood experiences and how they impact lifelong health. The group hopes to provide future physicians with knowledge of trauma-informed care, so more children get the care they desperately need.
“No matter the type of medical practice, physicians will come in contact with children affected by adverse childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect,” Davis said.
“Children grow up,” said UMMC CARES Vice President Katelyn Powell, an M2 from Tishomingo, “so even physicians who treat adults will see the effects of adverse childhood experiences in their patients.”
The two, wearing UMMC CARES T-shirts with the message, “Advocate for Tiny Humans,” joined the Safe Center team and Bain in unloading bags and boxes of toys. The massive collection of toys and gifts is even more impressive since the collection started Nov. 3.
For Davis, the toy drive was personal. “I survived childhood trauma,” she said, “so for me, being able to help children facing trauma brings my story full circle. I shared my idea with our Outreach and Service Coordinator, Jenna Hull, who was overwhelmingly supportive of helping abused and neglected children.”
The Children’s Safe Center, with offices in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Biloxi, Meridian, McComb, Tupelo and Grenada, provides a safe environment for mistreated children and their families. Trained child abuse professionals provide medical examinations and treatment in a child-friendly atmosphere. Staff members are trained child abuse professionals with extensive medical, courtroom and investigative experience in child maltreatment.
The toys collected will brighten the holidays for Safe Center patients, but the Safe Center team uses toys all year to comfort their patients.
“As a parent, I know well the satisfaction of seeing a child provided an unexpected life pleasure,” said Dr. Scott Benton, professor of pediatrics, chief of the Division of Forensic Medicine at UMMC and medical director of the Children’s Safe Center. “The joy of giving is what Christmas is about. Toys and children are synonymous with a normal childhood, yet so many of the children we see lack the social advantage of having this experience. This tremendous gift by so many and coordinated by our medical students meets a large need throughout the state at some of these children's lowest points in life. I'm very proud of our institution and students for stepping up.”
Davis had plenty of help in collecting the toys once the drive started. Students and faculty at Mississippi State University, Davis’ alma mater, and the University of Mississippi, where Powell earned her bachelor’s degree, joined in. Employees of Hunter Engineering, where Bain works, collected 300 toys.
The Texas clothing company Jadelynn Brooke donated teen-friendly T-shirts, and Davis’ friends in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida helped, sending boxes of gifts that are now under the Christmas tree at the Children’s Safe Center.
Joining Davis and Powell in wrapping the hundreds of toys in clear gift bags was third-year medical student Jenna Hull of Columbus.
Dr. Beth Brownlee, assistant professor of forensic medicine, applauded the students’ efforts. “I am truly grateful for a group of students who not only want to educate others about trauma-informed care but also want to advocate for the most vulnerable children in our state. Orchestration of such an impressive network of donations was no easy task. Emily has gone above and beyond to bring a smile to our patients during this holiday season and throughout the year.”
Medical training is demanding, said Dr. Lyssa Weatherly, associate professor of medicine, “but despite having an exceptionally busy schedule and long hours of constant studying, our medical students still find time to devote to service and the care of others on our campus, in our community, and around our state.”
After Davis attended the One Loud Voice Conference of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi, she connected with guest speaker Melanie Barton, who survived childhood sexual abuse, with donations from Barton’s home state of Massachusetts ensuing.
“During her inspiring workshop, Melanie reached in her bag to retrieve a stuffed bear with the word ‘HOPE’ across its foot,” Davis said. “She received the bear as a child from her Child Advocacy Center. She has carried the bear and the hope it symbolizes with her for 18 years now.”
The message behind the gift is what she wants each child to take to heart. “It’s not the gift but knowing that someone out there cared about them.”