SWEETWATER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Last year, the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) of West Texas reported 267 child abuse or neglect cases. In 2022, they had 220 cases, with five months remaining in the fiscal year.

The rise in cases calls for the opportunity to expand their outreach for the CAC of West Texas, serving Nolan, Mitchell, Scurry, Fisher and Borden counties.

Officials with the CAC said the center’s vision for expansion would bring forth the issue of children’s mental health in rural communities- a commodity which can be difficult to find.

When you walk the halls of the CAC in Sweetwater, it does not take long to see the hundreds of young lives impacted by physical, sexual or emotional abuse and neglect as painted handprints cover the hallways.

Kids ages 3-17 have their handprints on their walls, dating back to their opening in 2000. While hundreds have left their mark, hundreds more have remained silent as they continue to battle the after-effects of their abuse, even years later.

Executive Director Samana Arizmendi recounted all of the stories she’s heard from the children she’s helped in the center’s interview room.

“I can place my hand up on that [handprint], and I remember that day and what that child told me,” Arizmendi said. “Trauma looks different on every child we see, and so people say that child looks just fine. They’re thriving, they’re moving… But then they have a rough day, and that trauma is coming through.”

Separated from the main portion of the building are two rooms: the observation room and the interview room. These rooms are where nearly 60% of the children the CAC sees every month cry for help, and where a plan for recovery is determined.

However, that 60% are usually in need of some form of one-on-one counseling- which is a service that’s few and far between.

For 2022, the CAC found help in the Sweetwater Police and Fire Departments, looking for their help to raise funds to expand their mental health programming.

“For us to be able to come out and to raise funds to help keep them running, help keep them going or even to help them expand their abilities is phenomenal,” Fire Marshall James Smith said.

As partners, the three have put together the “Strike Out Child Abuse” homerun derby and softball tournament, headlined by a police versus firemen game, with all funds going directly back to the Children’s Advocacy Center.

“Mental health issues are often underserved in our communities, especially smaller communities like ours,” Police Chief Bryan Sheridan said. “So anything they can do to help us in that realm is important.”

Both Chief Sheridan and Marshall Smith said they believe the CAC is a pivotal part of the Sweetwater community and it’s their turn to give back.

“Every child should just be able to be a child and not have to worry,” Arizmendi told KTAB/KRBC.

Organizers encourage the community to help fill spots in the co-ed tournament. It costs $250 for a team of 10, with the only stipulation being a roster made up of five men and five women.

Each team is guaranteed to play three games and prizes will be awarded to the first and second place winners. The softball tournament will be held June 11, with the homerun derby on June 10 at Newman Park in Sweetwater.

To register a team, call Kathleen Cox at (325) 721-8715 or Samana Arizmendi at (325) 236-2134. Teams must be registered by May 27.