Bags and Bellinis Co-Chair Kristel Johnson displays handbags and raffle prizes that will be featured in the silent auction on Sunday, May 5, 2013, along with Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center Executive Director Kathy Rau and Russell, a specially-trained courthouse dog that comforts child victims who are being interviewed at the center. Photo by Stella Schaefer

Submitted Photo

Spring is in the air, and the Tucson Ladies Council will greet it with flair at Bags and Bellinis, a silent auction to benefit the Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center next Sunday at La Encantada.

"What goes better than Bellinis and a new handbag in the springtime? Especially when the proceeds will help the efforts of those at the Children's Advocacy Center," said Stella Schaefer, founder of the Tucson Ladies Council and co-chair of the upcoming event with Kristel Johnson.

"I can't say enough about all they do for abused children in our community. They are amazing," Schaefer said of the advocacy center.

The center offers a comforting place for child victims of abuse or neglect to undergo the initial steps of an investigation when they have been removed from home by Child Protective Services or law enforcement.

A team including a specially trained forensic interviewer, law enforcement officer or officers, and legal, medical and mental health experts work together to provide support for the child victim and non-offending family members in a child-friendly environment as opposed to the police station.

Services include medical evaluations, videotaped forensic interviews, crisis intervention and case coordination.

Children who are unable to return home are given clothing, books, a blanket and other items to take to temporary foster care.

To break the cycle of abuse, the center offers education and outreach to school-age children about keeping themselves safe and reporting abuse. It also provides training to adult professionals about the laws and processes of mandated reporting.

Last year, more than 1,300 children were interviewed at the center.

Executive Director Kathy Rau believes many Tucsonans are unaware that child abuse and neglect are such an extensive local problem.

"I have three full-time interviewers who spend all day, every day, interviewing children about abuse, and the majority of that is sexual abuse. We see children from as soon as they can talk all the way up to age 18. These are children for whom there has been a report about sexual or physical abuse or neglect, or who are a witness to a violent crime, child pornography, or any type of crime where the child is a victim," she said.

Rau said financial aid from organizations such as the Tucson Ladies Council is vital to the center's ability to provide services to an ever-increasing number of children.

"Some agencies say, 'We have X amount of dollars and we can see X amount of kids.' We need to see all of the kids who come through the door to talk to them and make sure they are safe and to collect evidence for law enforcement and CPS. That is what makes us a little different than other nonprofits," Rau said.

The Tucson Ladies Council's 17 members are determined to support the endeavor and seek to raise at least $10,000 at the upcoming event. The "small but mighty" nonprofit has raised about $800,000 for local child-related charities since 2005, primarily through an annual fashion show.

Next Sunday's Bags and Bellinis will mark an alternative foray into fashionable fundraising with a silent auction of more than 100 new, gently used and vintage handbags of all shapes, sizes and colors.

"We have unique, one-of-a-kind handbags, vintage bags and designer bags - Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton and lots of Coach - and even a table of bags for little girls with Juicy Couture, Coach, Hello Kitty and a variety of others," Schaefer said. "We have had a great response. So many people want to donate items."

If You Go

• What: Bags and Bellinis.

• When: 2-5 p.m. May 5.

• Where: La Encantada, in the former Bluepoint Kitchen & Bar, 2905 E. Skyline Drive.

• Cost: $50 per person.

• The details: Ticket price includes a silent auction featuring more than 100 new and gently used vintage and designer handbags, a Bellini Champagne cocktail, appetizers from Renee's Organic Oven and a raffle ticket for prizes ranging from a Louis Vuitton wallet and Tiffany & Co. gift certificate to a pearl necklace and other jewelry.

• Tickets: Go to or call 465-2010.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at