The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Oasis faces financial difficulties

The center interviews child victims, witnesses; its funding was denied.


September 2, 2018

David Grieder

Oasis' Interim Director and Forensic Interviewer Cheryl Little stands beside a white board in her office reflecting various interviews last month with children at the safe house.

CLOVIS — When it comes to prosecuting a case involving a child that was victimized or witness to a serious crime, interviewing that child is a delicate and important task.

Since the early 1990s, The Oasis Children's Advocate Center (CAC) in Clovis has provided a local safe space and specialists for those interviews.

But due to a recent budget shortfall, it may have to close its doors as early as year's end, officials said.

Oasis overseers told The News last week that its operations have relied in large part on funding every four years from the state's Children, Youth, and Families Department, but their application this year was denied. They've filed an appeal for an explanation, but for the immediate future the point may be moot: it appears the available CYFD funds have already been contracted out to 10 other such safe houses across the state; lacking another significant financial boost in the coming months, Oasis will have to send its children off site to those locations for their interviews.

That would mean sending children and their attendants for day trips to CACs in Roswell, Hobbs or Albuquerque for appointments with fully trained interviewers, which adds additional expense and stress for the young or disabled adult subjects and ultimately makes for a less promising situation in the courts.

"As a detective, I don't want to be without this," said Clovis Police Department's Rick Smith, who specializes in child abuse and sexual assault cases and recently became the president of Oasis' board of directors.

"This is something that makes it easier for all of us to prosecute these cases. I work with other detectives, and they don't want to see it go either."

In just the past two weeks Oasis conducted 20 interviews for children out of an average of up to 170 annually, according to its interim director and forensic interviewer. Cheryl Little has worked double-duty and overtime for the safe house in recent weeks; typically there's another staff member, but the board is reluctant to hire and train another (a process of some four months) until the nonprofit's financial future is better guaranteed.

"As a prosecutor it's extremely concerning that Oasis is in this financial crisis," said 9th Judicial District Attorney Andrea Reeb. "In my 22 years of being in this office, there has always been an Oasis. I wouldn't know what life is going to be like without it."

Reeb and the rest of the community Oasis serves — including Curry, Roosevelt, Quay and De Baca counties as well as Cannon Air Force Base — will get to see just what that really is like if the situation doesn't improve in the next few months, Smith said.

He forecast a worst-case scenario of Oasis shutting its doors in December if upcoming grant applications and fundraisers don't pan out.

Little pointed to an annual golf fundraiser (set for the end of this month) and a new event in the works with a local firing range before the end of the year. Reeb also said she would commit her office's next fundraiser to Oasis, but that won't be for many more months.

"We have some reserve funds available that we can tap into, but they're very limited. I'm not going to run a negative deficit for anything we're doing, because I'm not sticking anybody with this kind of a mess," Smith said in an interview Friday afternoon with Little and The News at the Oasis house across from Clovis' Freshman Academy.

"The majority of our funding has always been through CYFD, because that's who we work with most closely. (The grant) was something we needed to be able to keep the doors open. Now we're scrambling."

CYFD's public information office did not respond to requests for an interview last week.

Oasis was hoping for a grant of $115,000 across four years, which would cover almost half of the group's annual expenses, currently streamlined down to one employee. Other funds do come in from the United Way, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant and local fraternal organizations, but none are as significant as the CYFD monies.

"Money's tight and sometimes the state has competing interests. It's not that there's any other child advocate group that's coming into being here, it's just that the money's tight," he said. "They're trying to marshal their resources as best they can, and they're continuing to receive less money from the federal government."

Little emphasized that Oasis' work serves victims across all spectra of the community, noting that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys "will be sexually or physically assaulted by the time they are 18 years old."

"As you drive down your street each day, estimate how many children live on that block," she wrote in a message to The News. "These are crimes that know no boundaries. These crimes occur in all areas of the city at the same rate."

And the group's work is only expected to increase with the new school year.

"School just started back up, and there's training in the schools about inappropriate contact," Smith said. "So we generally get an influx this time of the year of additional cases that need our attention."

Smith said he was normally reluctant to lay out the situation so plainly, "but at this point we're not turning any opportunity down."

"The people in our community are incredibly generous, but if you keep going to that well for day-to-day stuff, that dries up rather quickly," he said. "We don't want to take advantage of the generosity of our community, but we're at a hurting point right now, and we just need to get past this hump and see what we can clear out."


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