In 1979, the National Exchange Club voted to have Child Abuse Prevention as their main project. Members of the Jackson Exchange Club were present and wanted to have a Center here locally. They worked hard with the governor and elected officials to receive licensing and create this non-profit entity. Around that same time, a child died as a result of child abuse in West Tennessee. Carl Perkins saw the picture of the child in the newspaper, and the child resembled one of his own children. He told his wife, Val, that he wanted to do something to make sure that did not happen to another child. He contacted the Juvenile Court Judge and friends in the Jackson Exchange Club. Together, they worked to raise enough money to open the Center. The Club wrote a grant for $26,000, and Carl brought in the Statler Brothers to have a concert that generated $33,000. This was the seed money that was raised to begin work on the dream of preventing child abuse.
The Exchange Club-Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse opened its doors in October 1981. The Center was the first Child Abuse Prevention Center in the state of Tennessee and the fourth in the Nation. It is now one of the largest of its kind. Last year, the Center helped 16,809 individuals in West Tennessee, serving all counties outside of Shelby. The Center started in an old dorm room on the old Union University Campus. The shower stall was where the diapers, toys and clothing were stored. There was a full-time director and a part-time secretary. There were many pancake breakfasts, mile-long subs, concerts, bake sales and other fundraisers created to keep the doors open. In 1982, the Center held its first Circles of Hope Telethon hosted by Carl Perkins and Cousin Tuny. The very first telethon raised $10,000.
The Center has grown tremendously, now having twenty-three locations and a staff of 82. The community has been very supportive of the Center and its efforts to support those in need of help. The growth and success of the Center can be attributed to very strong Boards, supportive Exchange Clubs, generous community support and most importantly, the guidance that God has given our leaders. Those who lead the organization and are involved on a daily basis believe in the power of prayer and know who is in control. The Bible states that when we take care of His children, we are doing His will. The staff and many volunteers have always been very dedicated and goal-driven. A six year business plan and an annual long range plan have become our road maps and lead us into the future as we grow and develop.
The mission of the Center is to provide support to families in preventing and dealing with child abuse in West Tennessee and to help both parents and children meet the practical needs of preserving and improving the quality of family life. Many services are provided by the Center such as forensic interviews, group and individual counseling, emergency services, 24 hour hot line services, therapeutic visitation, relative caregiver support services, child advocacy services and community education programs. The Center works collaboratively with law enforcement, district attorney offices, juvenile court systems, the department of children’s services and many other child-serving organizations to protect our children and keep their best interest at heart.
Carl Perkins had a vision for the Center. He wanted children to be all God wanted them to be. His vision and legacy live on and continue to influence the Center. “Go Cat Go” was an endearing phrase that he would often shout out before, during or after a song he was performing. He would use it with other musicians, his song writing and even in his every day conversations. He would smile that big, sincere smile, and you knew you were in for a treat. This was a piece of the music industry’s history as he changed the face of rock and roll forever. Carl Perkins was an influence on millions and truly the royalty of the musical world, often called the “King of Rockabilly.” The songs he sang and wrote for the Beatles, Elvis, Dolly Parton and others will always be a part of music history.
But Carl not only used “Go Cat Go” on stage and with his music audiences. He used it when he would talk about the Center and those visions and dreams he had for its growth and development. He said of all the awards and honors he had received, none meant more to him than having the Child Abuse Prevention Center named after him and knowing he played a part in making dreams for the children become a reality. He would often become teary eyed as he visited the Center. He always wanted to do more. His life was dedicated to helping children. He followed his heart and left us with his vision. He is royalty for the Exchange Club-Carl Perkins Center, too.
We have pictures, music, videos and a loving spirit to fill the Carl Perkins Center and remind us of our friend. Every once in a while you may hear someone singing…”Well its one for the money, two for the show three to get ready and GO CAT GO!”
If you would like more information about the Center or how you can volunteer, please call 424-7900 or 668-4000. The Center needs your prayers and continued support. Working together as a team, we can and do change lives daily and have made the world a better place. We all can make a real difference…one child, one family at a time. We always use this saying that Cousin Tuny (Doris Freeman) gave us many years ago, because it is what we truly believe:
A Hundred Years from now…
It will not matter what my bank account was,
the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove….
But the world may be different because
I was important in the life of a child.