After a 15-year career in retail, Evonne Saunders joined Heroes Landing as Executive Director. Her expertise in operational management has proven essential in building initiatives and developing solid partnerships for the center. We’re incredibly lucky to have Evonne at our helm, and we’re excited for you to get to learn more about the impact she’s making in our community.



Why did you get involved with Heroes Landing?

I became involved because it was clear there was a service gap—a justice center didn’t exist. The children in our county who were survivors of sexual abuse were required to travel out of our county to start their healing process. The opportunity to eliminate travel, cost, and time barriers to their healing process and cultivate protocol within our county was exciting to me. What an opportunity to build something so needed!


I also love the operational side of a children’s justice center. It is a way to apply my career experience in a new arena. Knowing Heroes Landing has the community’s support gives this project the legs it needs to stand on its own, and I am so excited to help build it. 


What has been the need in this area and how has the center been able to make a difference? 

The most eye-opening part has been the realization that there was a gap. A children’s justice center model didn’t exist in Muskingum County. Introducing the model of a justice center—which includes the ability to meet a survivor and provide access to comprehensive care and advocacy in one, local setting—has been eye opening to the community.  It’s hard to grasp that, on average, 100 cases in prior years were sent outside our county. By setting the foundation for a sustainable model within our community, we are directly servicing our children.  


What is the process when a child comes in? 

The primary purpose of Heroes Landing is to empower child abuse survivors by providing multidisciplinary evaluations and coordination of advocacy and care at a child-friendly facility.

Without a child justice center, children must retell the worst experience of their life over and over again, often leading to unnecessary re-traumatization. 


However, at Heroes Landing, a survivor only has to tell their story once to a trained forensic interviewer. Based on the interview, a multidisciplinary team makes decisions together on how to help the child and/or family by connecting them to resources and potentially pursuing prosecution.


What are the current challenges you have in meeting the needs of the community? 

During a pandemic, it is hard to understand the magnitude of abuse. What we know is that in 2020, there were 132 children served by Children Services. That number does not include other children in the family that would have been interviewed due to abuse being reported in the house. 


Based upon the household populations that are served by Muskingum County Children Services, it would be fair to estimate that at least twice that number had contact with the agency, law enforcement, or other professionals due to child sexual abuse occurring in the home. 


To date, our number is 93 as of 2021. However, case reports for the last two years are deflated due to COVID and lack of interaction between children and mandated reporters (i.e. teachers). 


Is this area an outlier in child abuse cases or consistent with U.S. statistics? 

Rural communities are known to struggle with abuse.   Muskingum County is third in the state in terms of abuse reports per person, with the first two counties being Franklin and Fairfield.  


What impact do children justice centers (CJC) make on their community?

In districts with significant CJC usage, there is a 196% increase in felony prosecutions of child sexual abuse. CJC communities demonstrated significantly higher rates of coordinated investigations between law enforcement and Child Protective Services, team forensic interviews, and case reviews.  


A CJC community will process a sexual abuse case within 1-60 days, 80% of the time.  These are proven results on the impact a CJC can have within a community.   


It is not uncommon for children aged 0-17 to have experienced over 2 or more ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). 26% of girls and 5% of boys under 18 years of age have been affected and CJCs are here to help them heal.



How many other CJCs are there across Ohio?

The first Ohio Children’s Justice Center (CJC) was established in Stark County in 1987; since then, Ohio’s network of CJCs has grown to 37 accredited and developing centers among our 88 counties. We are excited to be a Developing Member of this group and work towards national accreditation.


How can we help someone we suspect to be a victim of abuse?

It's important to know who to call to report abuse.



Report Child Abuse



Children Services



Sheriff's Office



Police Department



What has been the best part of your job?

I continue to be impressed by the professionals who work in this space every day—those who interact with child survivors and their caregivers to break the cycle of abuse. 


It is not easy work. It is a hard topic to stomach, and when you add it to such a formative and impressionable time in a child’s life, you understand the fragility of the work and the benefits of community actions. It is overwhelming yet motivating. 


Beyond my own expectations of building a model of sustainability for Heroes Landing, having co-workers who are committed to this cause strengthens my desire to build a best-in-class model.