When Ed McGowan first mentioned the idea of having one place to help with the many needs of physically abused children and their families, he never dreamed he would some day have a room named after him in that very facility.
McGowan joined the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department back in 1978 and eight years later took on the role of detective. It was then that he found his niche of working with children who have been physically assaulted. McGowan found ways to connect to the children and allow them to feel open to share their story. On July 18, the Child Advocacy Center of Grays Harbor honored his contribution to help the youth on the Harbor by officially dedicating the Ed McGowan Multi-disciplinary Room during an open house at the facility in Montesano.
“This is overwhelming,” McGowan said. “One, it wasn’t expected. Two, it is kind of weird because I’m still doing the interviews here and they have a room named after me.”
While McGowan retired from the Sheriff’s Office in January to take the position of head of security at the Grays Harbor Courthouse, after so many years, it was hard to walk away from the Child Advocacy Center so he still lends a hand to interview victims. McGowan had been working cases involving children for more than a decade when he had a conversation with a colleague about the need for the advocacy center.
“Mike Bagley, who was a detective at Aberdeen, and I were talking one day and I said ‘This is what it would be neat to do. Kind of one-place shopping,’ and he took the bull by the horns and this is our second facility,” McGowan said. “It has grown from doing interviews and daycare to all of these different programs. This is neat to see this come as far as it has.”
With the addition of another office building at the facility in Montesano, the Child Advocacy Center was able to make for some more elbow room for several workers and finally have a dedicated meeting space. The Child Advocacy Center continues to be focused on children, but Executive Director Angela Coulter said it is nice to have a grown- up space to conduct business.
“In that room, we will be doing the multi-disciplinary team meetings,” Coulter said. “When a child has been physically assaulted, all of the professionals get together and put all of the pieces together to make sure the case goes appropriately. We have met in any little corner. We have met on the playground, in a little room where we are sitting with four people on one couch, but it is so nice to have a beautiful room that is very adult and functional.”
The open house was not just a chance to dedicate the new meeting space, but an opportunity for the public to tour the facility and see several updates that have been made the past months and also allow the CAC to say “thank you” to those who helped make the improvements possible. In addition to the new office space and meeting area, the outside play area for toddlers had a cover installed with the help of $20,000 raised by Greater Grays Harbor Inc.
The Rotary Club of East Grays Harbor has also raised upwards of $150,000 these past seven years for the advocacy center.
Much of the labor and materials to put the McGowan room together was donated with Coulter’s husband making the tables, Walmart donating the paint and individuals donating time to paint and install flooring. When the room was finished, Coulter could think of no person better than McGowan to honor with naming it after.
“Children are better in Grays Harbor County because Ed works with them,” Coulter said. “He can get kids to tell things they won’t tell anybody else. We had a kid who came in a couple of months ago and would not talk to anybody, just sat there with her head down. We gave it a shot with Ed and last night she told her whole story from beginning to end and was open and it was easy for her. He just has kind of a magical little piece where he can get kids to tell him things that with the rest of us they are too afraid.”
That magical piece may be, in part, McGowan’s background coming from the foster care system. With his father dying just after his birth and his mother struggling with postpartum depression, McGowan went into the foster care system and was eventually put up for adoption. Being a part of the system moved McGowan to Grays Harbor from Fort Polk, Louisiana, but it also gave him a passion to help children who have experienced trauma early in life.
McGowan can look intimidating with his tall frame, but one flash of his smile and children can see the warm-hearted individual inside. He works to make a connection from the moment he meets the children by joking with them and soon they are sharing their story. During one interview, McGowan told a girl he was interviewing that he only had a few more questions and that they would only have to talk for about 10 more minutes. When he only needed four minutes to finish his questioning, the girl told him he had to wait until the full 10 minutes was up to finish the interview.
McGowan said he doesn’t have any secrets to helping vulnerable children tell their story, he is just himself.
“I guess I’m just a kid at heart,” McGowan said with a big smile.