Robyn Nelson
Robyn Nelson has helped raise money for the Child & Family Support Center. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal)

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Without volunteers like Robyn Nelson, the Child & Family Support Center likely wouldn't be able to survive.

The organization already has a waiting list of clients needing services, and funding has been hard to obtain.

"As a private nonprofit agency, we really, really struggle with funding," said Esterlee Molyneux, the Logan center's executive director. "And with the state of the economy right now, we've just had budget cut after budget cut, but the demand for our services has increased tremendously."

Whether it's assisting the needs of children who have been abused, helping stepfamilies, aiding mothers struggling with their kids, watching children in the nursery when a family is in crisis, or offering therapy to victims of abuse, the center's staff is working hard to help. But the center relies on Nelson and others in the "Circle of Friends" group to help with fundraising.

"Not one of our grants covers the cost of our services - not one," Molyneux said. "The services that we provide are not offered at any other agency. We're the last stop on the road."

During the last fiscal year, the center ran out of funding on all of its grants except for one a month and a half before the fiscal year ended, Molyneux said.

"But here we have hundreds, literally hundreds of families, every month that we serve," she said. "And so we were able to do that because of the money raised by the Circle of Friends."

Nelson, the group's president, has held that position since 2006. And Molyneux said Nelson's efforts have proved invaluable to the center.

"She has a passion for what she does," Molyneux said. "She's one who likes to stay under the radar. She does not do this for the glory or for the fame, but it's because she really cares."

For example, Nelson came up with the idea of having a softball tournament called "Guns and Hoses," where valley police officers face off against firefighters to help raise money for the center. Each team contributes $200. The third annual tournament will be held in September.

Nelson has also recruited several of her family members and friends to help the center, with one friend donating a "Winnie the Pooh"-themed Christmas tree and gifts last year.

"Every child who came here during that month when that tree was up was given a gift," Molyneux said, noting many of the children's families are struggling.

"(They're) families that just have been dealt a hand of cards that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, but they're working as hard as they can to overcome the challenges that have been placed before them," Molyneux said.

Nelson was inspired to volunteer for the center by her friend, JoAnn Autry, whose teenage daughter, Trisha, was murdered in 2000.

The two met when both were dealing with cancer and "instantly connected," said Nelson.

Before dying of cancer in January, Autry made assisting the center her mission. She started the Circle of Friends in 2005.

"I think she just felt she needed to give back," Nelson said of Autry. "In her situation, I think she learned that ... there was a problem in society, and a lot of things go overlooked and undetected. I think she wanted to bring an awareness to the valley, which she has."

Molyneux added: "Two weeks before she passed away, she even came in with an armful of donations for us. I mean, (she) could hardly move, not feeling well at all, but said, ‘I collected these in my neighborhood for you.'"

Since the Circle of Friends started, Molyneux said the group has raised more than $90,000 for the center. Nelson said she's trying to build on Autry's efforts.

"If you ever had the opportunity to know JoAnn, she was just such an inspiration," Nelson said. "To me, she was a mentor, because I always thought if JoAnn can overcome what she's overcome in her life, you know, you can do anything. And I just feel in honor of her, I want to make the Circle of Friends better and improve on it and bring her dream to fulfillment."

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