Bank On Them
In 1967, Evansville native Harold Kempf collaborated with a Chicago flour company to perfect his mix for Donut Bank Bakery donuts. A technician from the business was slated to join Kempf for a week, but on the third evening the man stood up from the work and announced his departure. Kempf asked about the remaining work to be done on the recipe and the technician replied, “I’ve got to go. You’re not going to make it.”
The doubt served as Kempf’s motivation to make his donut shop a success. Today, Donut Bank uses the same mix that Kempf created in 1967 and has expanded to nine locations in Evansville, Newburgh, Princeton, Indiana, and Henderson, Kentucky.
“It was always dad’s dream to have a donut shop,” says Chris Kempf, Harold’s son and current president of Donut Bank. “He felt like he could make donuts better than anyone else. We always looked at him like, ‘Donuts, really?’”
Yes, donuts — and coffee, bagels, pastries, cookies, muffins, brownies, and cakes, too. Harold, along with his wife Shirley Kempf, believed he knew what a quality donut tasted like and there were not enough bakeries that adequately produced the treat. In 1967, Harold, whose father worked at Honey Crust Bakery in the 1940s in Evansville, built his first location at 1809 First Ave. next to his brother Greg’s office building, but within two weeks of opening, the building slid into Pigeon Creek and had to be rebuilt.
“Dad grew very slow — just like we’ve grown slow,” says Chris, who oversees all nine stores today. “Whenever he opened the location at 1809 First Ave., he bought a gas station at Washington and Weinbach (in 1974). He thought that was a really good location and it turned out to be the move that sent Donut Bank on its way. Without that location, things would have been really, really difficult.”
“And a lot different,” adds 42-year-old Joe Kempf, Chris’ younger brother who shares the vice president role with their other brother Ben Kempf.
Two years after opening a store at Washington Avenue, Harold purchased the old Bell Office Supply store on St. Joseph Avenue, which would be Donut Bank’s third location.
“I think that store changed Donut Bank forever,” says Ben. “It made Donut Bank the neighborhood hangout. With Washington and St. Joseph Avenue (built in 1976), it turned into a meeting place. Instead of just a place to buy donuts, it was a place where everyone hung out.”
In 1981, Donut Bank added its Green River Road location, and in 1989, the family built the location on Diamond Avenue, which created the opportunity for the store to transform into the full-fledged bakery it is today. Its breadth of treats include more than 100 different donuts and baked goods making it the perfect “meeting place” for countless breakfast clubs and diners across the Tri-State.
“It’s fun to go into each store, because the atmosphere is just a little different,” says Joe, who along with his brothers, is in their various stores every day 10 to 12 hours a day. “There’s Lester over at Washington, and then there’s the guys who sit at St. Joe and Green River. At Lincoln Avenue, there are people who put four or five tables together and play bridge. It’s almost like your extended family and you miss them when you don’t see them.”
Evansville native Mary Jo Marks is one of the “regulars,” who finds a table at Donut Bank on Diamond Avenue almost every day where she orders a Long John and a cup of coffee in a to-go mug, because she likes her coffee “really, really hot.” The staff at Donut Bank practically has her order ready before she steps up to the counter, because of her consistency, and their initiative and friendly customer service.
“There’s always room for one more,” says Marks about why she enjoys frequenting Donut Bank. “You can have a private one-on-one conversation or sit with a group. It’s kind of a hang out. When someone says they need to talk with me, I say, ‘What end of town are you on?’ I can give directions to any Donut Bank in town, because it’s a place everybody knows.”
Marks, 73, a nurse who now volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House in her spare time, meets with a group of women at Donut Bank every Wednesday. She says she already is teaching her great-granddaughter to love the donut shop.
“My dad always said that what we do is fun food,” says Chris, who helps oversee the company’s six supervisors. “Bakery by itself, maybe not so much. But donuts and a really good cup of coffee, it’s a really fun environment. We’ve even told our sales people that if you’re going to work retail, why not work at a place where the people are very happy to be here. Our customers are. It makes our job so much easier.
“People will say to us your staff is always in a good mood. It’s because our customers are always in a good mood. They are coming here for a treat, for an experience, for something a little bit above the ordinary. You can actually hear their mood through the intercom at the drive-thru that they are happy to be here.”
Marks says the Evansville community has a strong brand loyalty to the family-owned, third-generation donut and coffee shop, and it’s something the Kempfs don’t take lightly.
“We are honored by that and it is something we don’t take for granted,” says Ben, 48. “People don’t understand the responsibility behind that. People don’t just continue to show up because we are Donut Bank. They stick with us because of the quality of service.”
Donut Bank’s philosophy of business was built on three principles, says Chris. The store’s goal is to serve the best quality food possible, have exceptionally nice and friendly sales associates, and offer a clean environment. Every location also offers free Wi-Fi. The store never sells day-old donuts — they always are fresh with a formula that hasn’t changed except for a few tweaks over the years. Shirley handpicked Donut Bank’s signature coffee blend more than 20 years ago after working to perfect it for six years. The store also has a reputation of giving — frequently donating sweets to race events, golf tournaments, charity fundraisers, and silent auctions.
“Unlike a lot of other businesses, this is our home, too,” says Chris, 56, whose son Chris also works at Donut Bank. “We live here. We want the best for this community.”
As the store sees three generations of customers and owners, so too does it host its third generation of employees with grandparents encouraging their grandchildren to apply for a position at Donut Bank.
“The people who worked here while I was a kid set a standard of service that somehow keeps being dragged through generations of workers,” according to Ben. “Somehow that knowledge, pride, and expectation keeps being pushed through.”
When Donut Bank opened in 1967, Chris was seven years old, Ben was a toddler, and Joe would be born years later. Harold and Shirley, who had seven children total, asked each family member to be involved in helping make donuts, serve coffee, decorate cakes, clean countertops, pick up trash, and more.
“We all started working here when we were tykes,” says Chris. “It was what you did. It was a good thing. We had the opportunity to be around so many good people — great people — who were our customers and those who worked here. Being in that environment so often, we probably didn’t know it, but it was going to help us in the future.
“There are some kids where you get them in front of a lot of other people and they kind of step back, but us, we were thrown into environments that were so crazy. We recently had a really long training meeting about how shocked people are when they get behind the counter and you have 100 people walking through the door. We forget how intimidating that is, but we were exposed to that at 7, 8, 9 years old.”
The boys would make donuts, while the girls would serve customers and decorate cakes. The Kempf brothers’ sisters were the ones who established the cake process Donut Bank still uses today. While Chris, Ben, and Joe help operate the stores, their four other siblings are involved with other ventures. Their parents Harold and Shirley are retired, but still are at the end of a coffee line at least four times a week.
“What people don’t realize is donuts are really, really hard work, and that’s why a lot of bakeries don’t serve donuts and a lot of donut places aren’t around any more,” says Chris, who considered being an electrical engineer at one time over working at the family business.
“There is an incredible amount of energy and machinery needed. The hours start at midnight. A baker can’t just come in at 5 a.m. and start baking. Us, we are baking eight hours before we open just to have our donuts ready. It is time consuming and hard. To choose that path was difficult in one way or another for all of us. The sacrifices are real.”
Ben weighed becoming a deputy sheriff and Joe contemplated working as a physical therapist, but all three brothers came backto work at Donut Bank.
“You have to remember that we all worked here — brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts,” says Ben, whose 19-year-old daughter is employed at Donut Bank while she attends the University of Southern Indiana. “If I left, then all my family is still here. It was a family project. It was what we all worked toward. It took all of us to get where we are now. All seven kids have their fingerprints here.”
Such commitment to the business has earned the Kempfs nine locations in Southern Indiana and branching into Western Kentucky (the Henderson store was the latest to join in May 2014), and adding another site always is a possibility, says Chris.
“We would love to have more locations, but so far the philosophy of buying a great location instead of buying the best location available has worked for us,” says Chris. “If we see that happen, we will look at it.”
The philosophy has worked for the family-owned company and its success has kept many big players such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme from dominating the market. The Kempfs are well aware of their competition — Krispy Kreme opened in October 2003 on N. Burkhardt Road, and there have been several Starbucks pop up in the area since the early 2000s. But to the brothers, Donut Bank is competing against more than that. Donuts can be found in nearly every convenience store and every grocery store, as well as coffee. Because of this, the owners always have been open to try new ideas and introduce new products.
“We have an obligation to our customers who support us now,” says Ben. “Some companies grow too fast and they forget who brought them to the dance … I think (our father) is proud that we have taken all of his life’s effort and tried to not improve, but just to move it along, make it bigger, while keeping his values.”
For more information about Donut Bank Bakery & coffee, call 812-426-0011 or visit donutbank.com.
Done Well and Well Done
Fourteen-year-old boys do not easily arise from their beds at 6:15 on a Sunday morning. “Let’s go, buddy” usually is followed by an inaudible noise and a groan. However, my son Jackson’s feet promptly hit the floor, and after checking his phone (of course), he headed to the bathroom. After a quick shower, which my water bill can attest is not the norm, he hurried downstairs proudly wearing last year’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure volunteer shirt. That T-shirt makes more appearances throughout the year than most of his wardrobe.
We already had dropped off multiple cases of magazines on Saturday afternoon at Eastland Mall, which serves as the race headquarters. The mall parking lot was set up and beginning to look similar to a small city within a city — no small undertaking. On Sunday morning race day, it takes no time at all upon arrival to find immediate pleasure in becoming a small part of such a large event. The 7 a.m. crowd was already large and enjoying the festivities. The color pink was everywhere. There were men in pink tutus, pink dogs, pink glitter, pink clothes, and pink chalk. You get the idea.
No matter how many years you attend, if you don’t get a lump in your throat at some point then you might need to check your pulse. The Survivors’ Parade, in particular, combined with the emotion you feel coming from their supportive families, is a powerful thing. So as we packed up and left, Jackson said, “Dad, this is a really nice event where everything is done right. I can’t believe so many people in Evansville are here today.” In our community, we often are our own most vocal critics, but we need to stop and remember what we do well — even my 14-year-old gets that.
Evansville’s own Donut Bank Bakery & Coffee is certainly another thing in Evansville done well. In an era where there is a serious lack of customer service and understanding of what it involves, Donut Bank is an anomaly. After our feature story “Bank on Them” on page 22, I think I know why, too. Go to any of the nine locations and see for yourself. Great products, great service, and squeaky clean stores inside and out are a few reasons its customers are fiercely loyal.
I also would like to throw out some praise to anyone who had anything to do with the recent Lloyd Expressway and U.S. Highway 41 interchange. From my perspective, it was a total win for our city by removing two stoplights, adding a new pedestrian bridge, and creating a better traffic flow — all while being done on budget and on time. Well done, Ragle, Inc. of Newburgh, Indiana, and the Indiana Department of Transportation as well as city planners.
By the time you skip past my next publisher’s letter, we will have elected our next mayor of our fair city. If you don’t vote in the local election, then don’t write letters complaining about the Mayor, City Council, and community leaders. Period.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Todd A. Tucker
Closing its Doors
Essentra, formerly known as Keller-Crescent Co. — a printing plant begun by a steamboat captain that evolved into a legendary advertising agency — announced its doors would close permanently in November.
The packaging manufacturer reached the decision in May that the E. Louisiana Street facility will close 130 years after it opened in Evansville, due to an unnecessary amount of Essentra plants in the region. Closing the plant will eliminate 150 full-time jobs. The company purchased the plant and 23 others from Clondalkin, a Dutch company, for $455 million in November 2014.
The facility’s rich history recently was featured in the story “Keeping Creative” in the December/January 2015 issue of Evansville Business.
Kay Koob, a key part of this rich history, says she is saddened by the news of the closing. Koob was the first female vice president at Keller-Crescent in the late 1970s and describes the atmosphere at the business in “her day” as extremely lively, busy, hectic, and wonderful.
“It was a very sad day for all of us who got our starts there,” says Koob of Newburgh, Indiana. “We were all a very solid part of the community. We were very much believers in community and activity and service. The Keller-Crescent that I knew has been gone for a long time but it’s still a very sad event for us — and the city, too.”
Evansville native Dave Painter started as an account executive trainee at Keller-Crescent in 1972 after he graduated from the University of Evansville. In just eight short years, he achieved the position of vice president account supervisor, the second youngest to hold the position.
Painter, now retired and working part-time at Napa Auto Parts in Newburgh, left Keller-Crescent in 1989, but still kept tabs on the company because of his positive experience working where he says he realized his dream.
“When I heard the news, I felt sad for not only this community, but also the individuals who were employed there,” says Painter. “It’s hard to see what was once one of the greatest companies in Evansville come to this end.”
For more information about Essentra, visit essentra.com.
Made to Order
In 1931, Wally Byam dreamed of creating a lightweight first-class trailer — the Airstream. Little did he know, the mobile home later would become the subject of countless HGTV shows, Pinterest boards, and a setting for small businesses around the world including Jasper, Indiana’s, Smalley Coffee.
Smalley Coffee, located at 2955 Newton St., serves handcrafted coffees, lattes, cappuccinos, chai, teas, smoothies, and baked goods out of a Craigslist-purchased 1966 Airstream trailer. The iconic travel vehicle always fascinated Jasper resident Josh Premuda and it was his dream to create a new type of coffee place with a walk-up window and a drive-thru.
He formerly lived in Washington, D.C., where he sampled a different coffee spot each weekend, and Denver during the time when food trucks exploded into the market. Premuda relocated to Jasper in 2010 where his wife and her family are from.
“I was up late one night on Craigslist and I found (the Airstream),” says Premuda, 36, who attended Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, and has a background in digital marketing. “It was a steal. My father-in-law and his brother towed it back for me in Owensboro (Kentucky). Ten to 12 years ago, I would sit and drink coffee and think about how to do this. My mom swears I talked about my plan in high school.”
After purchasing the Airstream, Premuda worked to gut the trailer and renovate it from a living space to a working café. “Everything was original,” he says. “It was pretty raw. It was old and all needed to be replaced.”
Two years elapsed before Smalley Coffee opened in the parking lot adjacent to the Smoke Shop and across from Yamato Steak House of Japan. The coffee shop, which has a small bar with stools and a table and chairs outside, is stationary and connected to city utilities. Smalley Coffee uses Rex Roasting, a roaster in Terre Haute, Indiana, which Premuda says may be one of the freshest coffees you can find. The company also sells Arnold Palmer flavored ice teas, coffee by the pound, T-shirts, mugs, and coffee cups.
“Everything we do is by hand from the coffee, to the art, to the restoration,” says Premuda who works with fellow Jasper resident Wes Zipp. “We just kind of roll our sleeves up and do it.”
For more information about Smalley Coffee, call 812-482-2442 or visit smalleycoffee.com.
More than five years ago, executives at Eli Lilly and Company, the global pharmaceutical manufacturer headquartered in Indianapolis since 1876, expressed to Mayor Greg Ballard that to continue to grow and recruit talent, the company needed more connectivity to the urban core — more livability in their part of town in the shadows of Lucas Oil Stadium. The mayor instructed Lilly executives, essentially, to make it happen. The result is CityWay, a $155-million, mixed-use retail and residential development arising from 14 acres of land, owned by Lilly and used for years as a parking lot that separated the company’s corporate campus in southeast Indianapolis from Monument Circle, the core of downtown.
Anchoring the neighborhood is The Alexander at 333 S. Delaware St., a $44-million, 209-room, 161,000-square-foot, four-star hotel that is attracting attention not only for providing great food and drink options in the neighborhood, but for hosting corporate events, and even weddings.
Jason Hoffman of Evansville, who works as operations manager at Tin Man Brewing Co., recently stayed at The Alexander with his wife Jessica, an account executive at Tucker Publishing Group, for a wedding.
“The Alexander was a fantastic place to stay and to attend an event,” says Jason Hoffman. “Being a part of the wedding party gave me a chance to see how well the events coordinator managed everything from flower arrangements to handling a group of raucous groomsmen. Having Plat 99 (the stylish mixology bar) to settle the nerves was great, too. They had a great selection of craft beer and have an amazing selection of cocktails, also.”
I stayed at The Alexander when I recently attended a board meeting in Indianapolis, and was impressed with the business amenities I saw. With its contemporary feel, adorned with local art, the hotel offers 16 flexible meetings spaces, a penthouse boardroom with a wraparound terrace, and a 2,400-square-foot outdoor plaza, perfect for weddings and nice-weather meetings.
For more information about The Alexander, visit the hotel’s website at thealexander.com.
The Daily Race
Heather Lejman begins everyday with a list. She goes through her day crossing off what to do, whom to call, what to organize, and where to go.
In her position as special events director at the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, Lejman is involved with many of the activities the YMCA presents, but race season takes up most of her time as well as space on her to-do list. The YMCA of Southwestern Indiana hosts the Evansville Half Marathon, the Spirit, Mind and Body Triathlon/Dualthon, Kids’ Triathlon, and the Airport Run along with training clubs for each race. Lejman begins planning the Evansville Half Marathon a year in advance.
“I’m sending emails to volunteers, sponsors, and people we are purchasing from whether it be advertising or anything else,” says Lejman. “I’m constantly checking on the status of those things. I spend a lot of time at the computer contacting volunteers and coordinating that. Other days it could be hauling Gatorade and water for hours because we have to load trucks or unload the basement. I don’t have days that are ever the same, that’s why I love this job.”
The 2015 Evansville Half Marathon was the 12th annual. Since its inception, the event has raised close to $1 million for the organization, raising tens of thousands of dollars every year.
“It’s always rewarding when the gun goes off at a race and we know that we have done everything we can do and then we get to sit back and watch people finish,” says Lejman. “It’s fun to celebrate with them that victory because we’ve done everything we can do to ensure their safety and to ensure they have a great time at the race.”
In addition to the annual races, Lejman also directs Team 13, the training club that practices for the Evansville Half Marathon for 13 weeks, and leads the YMCA’s annual Pancake Days, which brings the community together for fellowship over food, fun, and entertainment in February.
The Newburgh, Indiana, native and Purdue University alumna worked at the YMCA part time helping with summer camps, life guarding, and at the front desk since she was 16 years old. She also contributed to the special events team while working fulltime at her family’s business.
“When we decided to close Schmitt Photo three years ago, I was 40-something and looking for a job,” she says.
Luckily, Lejman found a fulltime position working with the people and activities she always has enjoyed.
“I couldn’t see myself doing any job but this one at this point in my life,” she says. “I truly enjoy this.”
For more information about the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, visit ymcaswin.org.
Kellie is an Evansville resident and single working mother who was searching for a decent home for her and her son. A friend put her in contact with Eric Cummings, executive director of Community One, and the result was, in Kellie’s words, “phenomenal.”
A Christian nonprofit Community Development Corp. (CDC), Community One matched Kellie with a refurbished Evansville home, at a cost far below market value. The organization focuses on local housing restoration and community development. Restoration can range from weatherizing a home to total refurbishment, as in Kellie’s case. Community development, such as in the Jacobsville and Glenwood sections of Evansville, goes beyond housing and attempts to improve entire neighborhoods.
“We started Community One to mobilize resources to restore housing and restore neighborhoods to be thriving, sustainable neighborhoods,” says Cummings, a pastor at Crossroads Christian Church before creating Community One in 2013. “When we looked at the landscape of Evansville, we saw a great need to help homeowners stay in their homes and reduce blight.”
Community One depends on contributions from individuals, home supply companies, and corporations such as Old National Bank and Vectren. At the heart of the effort are volunteers, especially those with building, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical skills. Because of them, Community One recently purchased a house for $100, refurbished it so that it appraised for $97,000, and then sold it to a family in need.
“It’s really lifted me to see the people we’ve been able to help,” says Bob Scales, a volunteer core crew leader. “There’s a lot of interaction with people in these neighborhoods.”
Anyone can go to the Community1.org website and request help, donate, or sign up as a volunteer.
“When the house was finished, walking through, it still had not sunk in that this was the house I was buying,” says Kellie. “It’s beautiful. I mean it was just phenomenal. I can’t thank anybody enough. I can’t bake enough cookies to say thank you for this.”
For more information about Community One, visit community1.org.
Where Do You Want to Eat?
Some may say the hardest decision to make each day is where to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The creators of Dough Deals hope their app, which was launched Sept. 28, simplifies the answer to that question.
Dough Deals is an app started by three Evansville residents intended to not only provide the community with discounts at their favorite local food spots, but also to supply free advertising for local restaurant owners.
“Our goal is to make an app that people want to download and that will spread very quickly,” says Bradley Davis, the marketing director for Dough Deals and a University of Southern Indiana graduate. “We made a decision half way in that we’re going to make it free.”
“Our goal is to help the community, help local restaurants, and create something people want to use,” says Cole Raven, who is the business director for Dough Deals and a graduate of Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Bloomington, Indiana.
After downloading the free app onto an iPhone or Android mobile device, users are greeted with three options of breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A swipe to the left on one of the categories shows the coupons from the restaurants.
“We wanted something that was more dynamic rather than just saying things,” says Mark Smith, the app’s technology director and a University of Evansville graduate.
Opening a coupon provides users a detailed description of the offer, contact information, menus, websites, reviews, and a map of the location. If users share the coupon on social media sites, they receive an additional discount.
Current restaurants offering coupons include Acropolis, Angelo’s Italian Restaurant, Lic’s Deli & Ice Cream, and others. The three — along with developers Trent Brown, a Vincennes, Indiana, native attending Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Jon Staff, a Jasper, Indiana native who works for Disney ABC in Burbank, California — hope to start speaking to investors in six months and then expand Dough Deals to other cities such as Indianapolis, Louisville, Kentucky, and St. Louis.
For more information about Dough Deals, call 812-641-5567, visit dough.deals, or email email@example.com.
On the Road
At Superior Van & Mobility, General Manager Jan Jordan says the most rewarding aspect of the business is providing mobility to those with limited access and seeing the joy on customers’ faces when they receive their new converted vehicle.
“People would not get out of the house without the ability to take their power chair or scooter with them,” says Jordan. “There’s nothing like seeing someone go places they’ve not been able to go before.”
Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, Dan Cook founded the company in 1976. Today, Superior Van & Mobility has nine locations throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Since the 1980s, the mobility industry has made large, significant changes and Superior Van & Mobility has been one of the leaders of the pack, introducing varied options to customers from stylish conversion mini vans to trucks and even trike motorcycles.
Jordan, an Evansville native, has been the general manager of the Tri-State location, 3414 Interstate Drive, for 10 years, and was one of the first employees hired for the Evansville store. The local store has won many awards for customer service, including ranking No. 1 in Braun Corp.’s Customer Satisfaction Index. A former mechanic for two different car dealerships in Evansville, Jordan has a long background in automobiles.
“There’s a lot of different adaptions that we do,” he says. “Not just for drivers, but for passengers as well. In our industry, we see a lot of people who need the service, but it’s not 100 percent the person who’s handicap, it’s the caregiver (too).”
The company also does work with Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, vocational rehabs, and Veterans Affairs. Superior also supports local Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) groups.
“It’s (rewarding) when the customer has a smile on their face,” says Tim Schultz, a mobility consultant at the Evansville office. “It’s when they are actually able to get out of the house and do the simple things that we take for granted every day.”
Superior Van & Mobility can outfit a conversion vehicle with zero-effort steering, computer operations near the console, a joystick or smaller steering wheel for driving, and many different lift options. Most of the vehicles in Superior’s inventory come from two companies that build conversion vehicles; Braun Corp. and Vantage Mobility International. These companies convert vehicles from Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, and Dodge.
Superior’s owner Sam Cook also is the president of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, which was formed to make sure qualified mechanics and builders are working on conversion vehicles.
“We are one of the top four or five businesses in the country doing what we do,” says Jordan.
For more information about Superior Van & Mobility, call 812-402-8267 or visit superiorvan.com.
A Time to Be Heard
When Forensic Interviewer Molly Elfreich leaves the interview room after speaking with a child sexual abuse victim at Holly’s House, she often has to return to the same space just minutes later to speak with another. In order to effectively do her job of speaking with children ages 2 to 17, she says she has only a couple minutes to decompress before she must move on to the next.
“I don’t just speak with just a child a week,” says Elfreich, who also serves as the associate director at Holly’s House, a nonresidential child and adult victim advocacy center located at 750 N. Park Drive. “I do multiple interviews a day and they need me to be 100 percent each time. Not to say that there won’t be cases that won’t be forever a piece of my heart and to this day I can think back and I know their faces.”
In over three years at Holly’s House, she has interviewed 1,200 children who have possibly been abused. Nationally, one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
Elfreich, an Evansville native, recently attained the Diplomate Child Forensic Interviewer (DCFI) certification, which is the highest level of credentialing from the National Association of Certified Child Forensic Interviewers (NACCFI) Credentialing Board. She is the only person in Indiana and one in 54 in the U.S., to hold this advanced certification.
“It helps a lot in a court setting,” says Elfreich. “I didn’t have to have that certification, I didn’t have to take that test. I didn’t have to put in the man-hours to do it. I chose to do it so that the child is getting the best person across the seat from them so they can get justice. I follow the child-first principle in everything. It always is in the back of my mind that if it helps me in court, it helps them in court. I did it for that and for Holly’s House. Any time that there can be recognition about what we are doing inside our building, there is a potential to bring community awareness.”
The 32-year-old graduated from Indiana University where she majored in criminal justice and psychology. After leaving college, she became a deputy sheriff in Florida, where she worked for nearly two years before returning home to Evansville to work as a confinement officer at the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office. She decided to attend the University of Southern Indiana to obtain her master’s degree in health administration and later discovered she and her husband were expecting a child. She briefly stopped working as she finished her degree and after her daughter’s birth. Soon after, she learned of an opening at Holly’s House for a backup forensic interviewer, which would also help as a service coordinator and receptionist.
“Forensic interviewing is fairly new in the sense of careers,” she says. “It’s only been around about 30 years so it’s ever-evolving. It’s always being tweaked. That’s why I’m constantly going to trainings. I try to go to at least two to three in-depth trainings a year as well as participate in peer reviews.”
Since accepting the position at Holly’s House in early 2012, Elfreich has been promoted to the fulltime forensic interviewer and assistant director.
“There are not a lot of us,” she says of forensic interviewers. “You don’t know if you’re going to be able to do it until your very first kid is sitting across from you and you are doing it. You either have it in you to disassociate and move on or you don’t. I have lots of respect for people who have tried this and said they can’t do it and moved on. It is a complete disservice if you can’t emotionally handle it. As of right now I do a very good job of turning it off because I want to be good for every kid that comes in.”
When a child enters the interviewing room with Elfreich, she instructs him or her to sit in a specific chair and she sits in a chair across from them. She does this because of the video cameras built into the wall, which allow law enforcement in the space next door to watch the entire interview. Elfreich, who can’t speak to a child unless a report has been filed through the Department of Child Services and/or law enforcement, wears an earpiece allowing her to never leave the room so those viewing can speak to her.
“I don’t want them to get some false idea that this is some secret between me and them,” she explains. “I make them aware that those people are watching because this is for a purpose. There is a lot of shame and guilt. Someone has groomed them or lured them into this situation and they have made the child think they are an active participant when they are not.”
Elfreich works to learn where the child is developmentally through a narrative practice, which is non-traumatic. If a child loves gymnastics, she will ask him or her to describe a competition episodically using as much detail as possible.
“I am figuring out developmentally where they are at and what kind of details they can give me,” she says. “When we get to the abuse, I’m not confusing them when I ask them to tell me all about it.”
The majority of her questions are open-ended and she never inserts responses for the child. She keeps an easel in the interview room allowing children to use drawings to recall situations or anatomical illustrations to help clarify body parts. Elfreich never shows emotion when the child is disclosing the abuse, and she also never touches the child.
“I tell them, ‘Whatever words you use, whatever language, whatever you say to me, you’ll never be in trouble with me,’” she says. “When we talk about body parts, once you get past that first time, and they hear me say it and I say it with no affect, no shock, they are like, ‘OK, she can hear this and listen.’”
Reliving the situation can be difficult and Elfreich says she always wants to make sure the child is in a state where they want to talk about it.
“They had no choice about what happened to them but they are absolutely going to have a choice in who they talk to and who they tell,” she says. “I always want that to be portrayed that the child had a choice. If they can’t do this part with me, then they are going to have a really hard time going through the criminal justice process.”
Elfreich says almost all disclosures are delayed, which can mean a child confesses six months to years after the abuse occurred. She says one example of how family members learn of the mistreatment is through accidental disclosure where the child told a friend who later told their mother and the parent reports it.
“The general public has this ‘Law & Order: SVU,’ ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’ effect where there is physical evidence and there is a black light used,” she says. “We don’t have evidence. There is no longer an injury if there ever was one.
“We have to convince a jury that this child’s statement is enough for this conviction. Part of my job on the stand is education on why kids have delayed disclosure, why kids sometime disclose and recant their statement.”
She explains that disclosures often are delayed because “stranger danger isn’t what children should be afraid of.”
“Out of 1,200 interviews, there were probably 15 to 20 that were strangers,” says Elfreich. “They are family members, people they knew, people they loved. You’re asking kids to send dads, grandpas to jail. They love these people even though they molested them. You are asking a lot emotionally of these kids to take on.”
Because of the personal relationships involved, Holly’s House offers a “Think First & Stay Safe” school program, which provides personal safety and child abuse prevention education at no charge to elementary schools in Gibson, Pike, Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick counties. Nineteen thousand area children have received the instruction created by Child Lures Prevention.
For more information about Holly’s House, call 812-437-7233 or visit hollyshouse.org.