HAGERSTOWN — J. “Mooch” Mutchler might be new to his job as director of Safe Place, but he knows a good staff when he sees one.
“That’s why I’m so happy to have this job. I’m working around a great group of people,” Mutchler said.
April is National Child Abuse Month, and Mutchler is on a mission.
“I want to get the word out when a child needs a voice. We can all be advocates,” Mutchler said.
Safe Place is Washington County’s child advocacy center, a center that houses a multidisciplinary team of professionals to respond to child abuse reports.
Social workers, a mental health professional, medical staff, law enforcement and a representative from the Washington County State’s Attorney Office — all specially trained to deal with child sexual and physical abuse — work together for quick response to cases.
“It really aids in prosecution,” Mutchler said.
Mutchler began work at Safe Place in February 2011, after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard with more than 20 years of service. His background in administration and family programs was a good fit for this job.
“I was looking for something, hoping I could make an impact on lives, after being a public servant with the Coast Guard. I saw this job and kept my toes and fingers crossed,” Mutchler said.
He said his mission is to “get the word out about Safe Place. It’s such a gem.”
Mutchler has his laptop and a PowerPoint presentation ready, as he seeks to line up speaking engagements in the community to spread the message about Safe Place.
“My mission is to connect the voice of the child and the community,” Mutchler said.
The facility at 24 N. Walnut St. in Hagerstown is on the second floor and features child-friendly murals and amenities to put children at ease. Mutchler said 200 children were helped at Safe Place last year.
Safe Place serves children from birth to age 18 and handles all of the sexual abuse and some of the physical abuse cases in the county.
“In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any child abuse. We’re on a mission to eliminate it,” Mutchler said.
Each themed interview room has a hidden camera to record interviews and a one-way window so the professional staff can watch the interview with the child, and the interview doesn’t have to be repeated.
There’s a health room where two nurses and a doctor conduct physical examinations.
Mutchler said the goal is to take as much stress as possible out of the experience for children.
Funding for the center comes from state and county grants, as well as donations and fundraisers through the nonprofit board, Friends of Safe Place. A magic show fundraiser will be April 23 at The Maryland Theatre.
Mutchler, who claims to be “40-ish,” grew up in Danville, Pa., and went to college in his home state. In the Coast Guard he was stationed in different places, including Puerto Rico. He earned a graduate degree from Mountain State University.
Mutchler and his wife, Gail, have been married for 22 years. They live in Martinsburg, W.Va., and have three children.
“I couldn’t be luckier that I’m here. I’m humbled to be here,” Mutchler said.
To report child abuse, call 240-420-2222. A trained screener will gather information and ensure the case gets to the right agency and social worker. This number does not go directly to Safe Place.