Chef Susie Jimenez hosts annual River Bridge Regional Center benefit, Imagine 3 |

Chef Susie Jimenez hosts annual River Bridge Regional Center benefit, Imagine 3

Jessica Cabe
Kerry Ach
Jessica Cabe / Post Independent |

If You Go...

Who: River Bridge Regional Center, food by Susie Jimenez, The Pullman, Town, Phat Thai, Allegria, Tempranillo, music by The Starletts

What: Imagine 3 benefit for River Bridge Regional Center

When: 6 – 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Gathering Center at The Orchard in Carbondale

How Much: $50 general admission, $85 VIP experience. Tickets can be purchased at

Almost four years ago, local chef Susie Jimenez, who was the runner-up on season 7 of “Food Network Star,” sat down for coffee with her neighbor Blythe Chapman, executive director of River Bridge Regional Center. After learning more about what the child advocacy center does for its four-county service area, Jimenez was inspired to use her talent and connections in the local food circuit for a good cause.

“I feel so fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had in my life and to live in such a wonderful community,” Jimenez said. “I’m thrilled that I can make a difference in fighting child abuse and supporting victims.”

So she started Imagine, an annual benefit for River Bridge that on average raises about $20,000 for the center — half of its annual fundraising goal. The event, from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday at the Gathering Center at The Orchard, features food from Jimenez, The Pullman, Town, Phat Thai, Allegria and Tempranillo, drinks, live music by the Starletts and a silent auction with more than 100 items. Tickets cost $50, and VIP tickets cost $85.

“I think our community is really starting to acknowledge this as a great fundraiser and a great deal,” Chapman said. “It’s a $50 ticket for tastings from a number of different restaurants, including Susie’s Spice it Up catering company, and wine and beer, a huge silent auction, a band and dancing, and you really can’t beat it, I don’t think, for $50.”

“And it’s not just tastings,” added Kerry Ach, forensic interviewer and community outreach coordinator at River Bridge. “Last year, people were getting full. You had to really pace yourself and tell them, ‘Don’t give me so much.’ They were just dishing it out.”

While Imagine 3 is a great party with food from some of the best restaurants in the valley, Chapman said she also hopes attendees of the event will walk away with a better understanding of what River Bridge does for the community.

“I would say that with this event, we’ve been pretty careful,” Chapman said. “We’re trying to draw people in because it’s a party and it’s fun, and we don’t want to overwhelm people with too much information and scare them away from it. But at the same time, we don’t want to have an event where people don’t really understand what we do. So going into the third year, I think our hope is to start moving in that direction where people realize, ‘You know what? We can go and have fun, and it’s okay to talk about.’”

River Bridge opened in 2007 to act as a one-stop resource for children who have either been abused or witnessed abuse. Chapman said the best way to describe the value of having a center like River Bridge is to imagine what a child goes through in a community without one.

“In a community that doesn’t have a child advocacy center, kids, when they are disclosing of abuse, have to tell a lot of people, and sometimes that turns into a lot of different interviews and can get really confusing for kids, and sometimes could cause more trauma,” Chapman said. “So for example, we have child protection services or departments of human services, and it’s their job to make sure kids are safe. So case workers have to interview kids to make sure that they’re okay and to put them in a place that they’re safe in if they’re not okay. And then if there’s a criminal act, law enforcement also needs to interview that child and make sure that they’ve got all the information they need in order to put together a case. If they then realize that there is a case, and it goes to the prosecutors office, then an attorney would need to speak to a child as well. And then we want to refer to mental health, and sometimes if a therapist doesn’t have all the information they need, they might have to interview the child again. And then if the case goes to trial, the child usually would have to testify, and they’d have to tell their story again. So the whole idea behind a child advocacy center is to cut down on how many times a kid has to go through that process of telling and to put together a really strong case that will then lead to holding offenders accountable.”

On top of that, sometimes these various people aren’t trained in how to conduct an interview of this nature with a child, Ach said.

“There’s a difference between a child having to go to the police station and tell a cop wearing a gun and a badge versus coming here, and they’re just talking to one person in the interview room,” Ach said.

The interview room itself is set up to put a child at ease. The walls are pastel, and the room is furnished with comfortable couches. Cameras, which the children are made aware of, capture the interview and stream it into a larger conference room, where law enforcement and other officials watch to gather information for their respective investigations. Art hangs on the walls throughout the building, and children walking through the front door will be greeted by a play area with toys.

All of these efforts to make children comfortable help in encouraging kids to disclose when they’ve suffered or witnessed abuse. That disclosure is a big step in fighting the abuse, Ach said.

“It’s something that people don’t really want to talk about, and so we’re always kind of fighting that secrecy around child abuse because it actually thrives in secrecy,” Ach said. “So just for parents, adults, even kids, just to be able to talk about it and think about it is huge in helping to prevent it.”


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