For every abused child in the Fayetteville community, there was always a friend in Roberta Humphries. Every one of them.
She understood their plight.
She understood their pain.
“I had a child history of abuse,” says Humphries, 67, who is retiring June 30 after 14 years as executive director of the Child Advocacy Center. “I had been sexually abused when I was 4 for over a year. It was a neighbor who was like a grandfather. And then my sister’s boyfriend when I was 8 through 14.”
Humphries has been executive director of the Child Advocacy Center since Nov. 9, 2009. She has seen more than 8,000 cases of children in Cumberland County who have been victims of abuse.
“Children severely burned,” she recalls. “Children impregnated by the biological father. Just the gamut, from psychological abuse to total neglect and the sexual abuse from touching to rape. We had a mom who drugged her daughter to take pictures of sexual acts and send them to her boyfriend.”
She has seen a child with broken bones from physical abuse.
Shaken baby syndrome, too.
And head trauma from more physical abuse.
“Either parents,” Humphries says of the perpetrators, “or someone close like a family relative.”
Innocent victims, these children are and have been, and Roberta Humphries can see their faces and their trauma.
“There are some cases that haunt you,” she says. “Unfortunately, there’s evil in the world. There are terrible things what some people do to each other. To physically beat a child to death or drown a child, it’s just evil.”
The Child Advocacy Center is a place of refuge, healing and hope to give an abused child better tomorrows.
“We try to focus on the positive,” Humphries says. “We have a lot of kids who are really scared when they come in and when they go into the forensic interview room. We get an average of 600 to 900 cases a year. The one thing that has helped is when we started mental health on site. Seeing the kids succeed through therapy and grow and blossom is the best thing. And to see the impact you can make.”
Every abused child has a story.
And Roberta Humphries and her staff always are there with a receptive ear and an open heart.
“They are reported through the Department of Social Services or law enforcement agencies,” she says. “It’s basically sexual abuse under 18. We see kids that are drug-endangered or trafficked. We’ll see survivors of homicides.”
‘I won’t tell what you just did’
If anyone can tell you about child abuse, it’s Roberta Humphries.
“The definition I like best is ‘the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens,’” she says, outlining the goal of the Child Advocacy Center. “I don’t know if resiliency is innate, learned or just an outcome of circumstances or a little of all three. I definitely think I learned how to be resilient from watching how my parents lived their lives. It is the life skills and determination that I learned from my parents that has helped me to survive and succeed despite some very difficult events in my life.
“But I also think my ability to bounce back was somewhat out of necessity, and I guess as my mother would have said, it is just that we were made of sturdy stock.”
She gives thought to her own experience of child abuse.
“I was sexually abused by a very dear family friend and neighbor, who was like a surrogate grandfather to all of us,” Humphries says. “I was 4 when the abuse began. I remember him saying after the first time that he sexually assaulted me: ‘I won’t tell what you just did.’ So, with those words echoing in my head, I knew for a fact that I had done something wrong, I was to blame and I became too afraid to tell anyone what was happening.”
The surrogate grandfather was her first sexual predator. He would not be her last.
“Unfortunately, when I was 8, another child predator entered our family in the form of my older sister’s boyfriend, who eventually became her husband and, thankfully, ex-husband,” Humphries says. “But not before he terrorized me for five years. Being abused by a second person reinforced in my mind that something was definitely wrong with me. Unfortunately, with everything my parents taught me, they never taught me how to protect myself from sexual predators because that wasn’t something talked about when I was growing up.
“I didn’t have the words to explain what was happening to me, and so I just didn’t tell anyone. And I truly believed that I was the one at fault.”
Humphries did not reveal being the victim of child sexual abuse until age 39, when she told her story to a therapist “and true healing began.”
A promise made, a promise kept
The healing would be a catalyst to help other abused children.
“I vowed that someday, I would make sure that what happened to me didn’t happen to other children,” Humphries says. “I could never restore the childhood that these two men robbed me of, but I could free myself from their control over my adult life and I could help other children. So, when the opportunity arose 13½ years ago to become the executive director of the Child Advocacy Center, I felt my life had come full circle. Fifty years after first becoming a victim of abuse, I was given the opportunity to facilitate the healing for so many other children.”
‘Roberta is the Child Advocacy Center’
Humphries earned her undergraduate degree from Moravian College and a master’s in health services management from Webster University before arriving in Fayetteville in 1993. She was the executive director of Better Health of Cumberland County for seven years and director of resource development for United Way of Cumberland County for 18 months before joining the Child Advocacy Center.
She arrived with a purpose, and board members will tell you so.
“She has worked with the board to expand the services that the center provides to the community,” says Beth Keever, a board member and retired Cumberland County District Court chief judge. “From community child abuse prevention education to counseling for victims of child abuse to training for law enforcement officers and social workers, Roberta has been the catalyst for change in the community.
“She is always seeking out new ways to improve the lives of children and families in our community. An excellent grant writer, she has accessed multiple foundations and granting organizations for the funds to enhance the center’s programs. Considered a leader in the nonprofit community, she is always available to assist other agencies.
“The center will miss her work ethic and leadership, but we know she has left the center in good shape to continue on with our work to make a difference in the lives of children,” Keever says. “And we know that she will continue to support and volunteer with the center.”
Keever’s words are not lost on longtime board member Lucy Jones.
“Roberta is one of the best executive directors I have ever worked with, and I have worked with lots of executive directors,” Jones says. “In addition to being so caring, she is easy to work with, so efficient and smart, and always follows through.”
And no one is more agreeable than Nadine Miller-Bernard, the board chairwoman.
“In 2013, my organization, Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, was searching for a nonprofit that we could volunteer and collaborate on events that centered around the welfare of the children of Fayetteville and Cumberland County,” Miller-Bernard says. “I visited the Child Advocacy Center and was immediately welcomed by Mrs. Roberta Humphries. She shared the center’s purpose, mission and history, which proved to be the best place for my chapter members to volunteer. In fact, Roberta and the CAC were recognized at our Founders Day East 2013 luncheon for their work with the coordination of services provided to child abuse victims and their families.
“Roberta wholeheartedly gives of herself as she works to direct the center’s mission to collaborate with community partners to respond and prevent child abuse. Roberta is the lifeline of the center as she navigates a nurturing environment, where the children serviced are free from sexual and physical abuse.
“She is a dynamic force that has only one true mission — the care and concern for our children that have been abused.
“Roberta has made the center a place where all children are received with open arms and heartfelt concern,” Miller-Bernard says. “In other words, Roberta is the Child Advocacy Center.”
‘Time for a change’
Despite the accolades from board members, Humphries says the time has come for someone else to lead the center.
“It is time for a change,” Humphries says. “Change can be good for a new perspective. I’ll miss the people, my staff and seeing the kids come to therapy, and I have the joy when they have finished. We have a butterfly tree here that signifies a new life away from the trauma.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here. It’s a wonderful place to work. I’ve met a lot of DSS and law enforcement people over the years. I’m amazed at our DSS workers. They have a tough, tough job.”
She looks forward to traveling with her husband and spending time with her grown children, six grandchildren and her two dogs, Duke the retriever shepherd and Amanda, a yellow lab. She looks forward to some pickleball recreation and a stained-glass craft hobby.
Jasie Landeros will succeed Humphries as the Child Advocacy Center’s executive director.
“She is coming from Cumberland County Schools,” Humphries says, “but she has worked for a CAC in Florida. It’s possible I will come back on contract, and I’m sure I’ll volunteer. My greatest accomplishment, I think, was bringing mental health counseling on site and financial stability to the organization. I doubled the budget through grants and fundraising and doubling the size of the staff.”
Most of all for Roberta Humphries, her time at the Child Advocacy Center was about changing the lives of abused children and fulfilling a promise to herself “to make sure that what happened to me didn’t happen to other children.”