Giving back

Dinner at Chili’s raises funds, awareness for Secret Safe Place

The chance to help spread awareness of a law that has been on the books since 2001 and the opportunity to raise funds for the organization brought friends of A Secret Safe Place for Newborns to the Alcoa Chili’s restaurant in February.

Secret Safe Place co-founder Shawna McConnell was pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm of those who attended. “I thought everybody seemed very excited about it and supportive,” said McConnell. “Even people at tables who didn’t know about (the fundraiser) got to talking to people on the board about it. We got really positive responses.”

McConnell said people were excited to hear about the organization from supporters who came to dine. “It always gets me excited when we have activities like that, because I feel the community is coming out to support the program.”

Chili’s general manager Rob Williams said the store does “Give Back” nights periodically for different organizations. “The charities are responsible for handing out fliers, and, for everyone who comes and mentions the event, we donate 10 percent of their bill to the charity,” he said. “Secret Safe Place brought in $1,300 of extra sales, and we gave them $130. It’s a great way for the community to support something by simply coming out and eating.”

In October 2000, a newborn baby girl was found in a shed in Townsend. Her 14 year-old mother had concealed a pregnancy and given birth to the baby alone at her home. In order to hide the pregnancy and the birth, she abandoned the baby in a neighbor ’s shed. The baby died of severe dehydration, and the teen was later charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to state custody.

Devastated by the news of this tragic event, two Blount County women, Shawna McConnell and Lisa Yount, were determined that no other babies would fall victim to similar circumstances. The efforts of Shawna, Lisa, Tennessee State Representatives Doug Overbey and Joe McCord, former State Senator Bill Clabough, Blount County Sheriff Jim Berrong, District Attorney Generals Mike Flynn and Randy Nichols, and other legislators resulted in the passage of Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law in June 2001.

The law, enacted on July 1, 2001, allows mothers of newborns to surrender unharmed babies to designated medical facilities within 72 hours of birth without fear of being prosecuted. As long as the baby is unharmed, and the mother acts within 72 hours of birth, she will not be prosecuted and is assured of complete confidentiality. Her baby and her secret will be safe.

Without awareness of the Safe Haven Law, unsafe abandonment of newborn babies will continue, say the organizers. Educating the public about the legislation is crucial. A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee, Inc., a non-profit, 501c3 organization, supports and assists medical facilities where mothers can surrender their babies, operates a 24-hour Helpline to answer questions, and educates young women across the state about this legal alternative to infant abandonment.

The organization’s goal is to prevent newborn abandonment through the expansion of education and public awareness efforts.

The public awareness program includes printed resources, a television commercial, website and educational programs. Organizers say at least 34 babies have been saved by the Safe Haven Law since 2004.

For more information, contact the business office at 865-254-2208.

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