Jeanine Nicarico never shied away from helping a child in need, so it's fitting, her mother said Tuesday, that the facility where abused DuPage County children go for protection will be named in her honor.
"I really feel her spirit will be here protecting these children," Pat Nicarico said at a ceremony to break ground for the new Jeanine Nicarico Children's Advocacy Center on County Farm Road in Wheaton.
Construction on the $5.4 million project is set to begin this month, with a tentative opening slated for fall 2013. Former State's Attorney Joe Birkett, now an appellate judge, said the building's name serves as a tribute to Jeanine, who was 10 years old when she was abducted from her Naperville home and murdered in 1983.
"It's really a testament of what this is all about," he said, "and that's protecting children."
The 15,000-square-foot facility is where law enforcement will investigate cases of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse, and work with children who witness violent crimes. It will also house the county's Family Center, which provides services to families going through divorce or separation.
County board member Jim Healy said the county's existing children's center at 130 N. County Farm Road has outlived its use and needs major repairs. To pay for the new project, the county is drawing on a community development grant and tapping into funds saved specifically for the project, as well as earmarked court fines, officials said.
Opened in 1987, the center was the first of its kind in Illinois and among the first in the nation. Since then, it has helped thousands of children navigate the court system, State's Attorney Robert Berlin said.
"The young victims in these cases have already experienced the ultimate betrayal," he said. "The new children's center will make sure justice is done and the victim's trust is not once again violated."
Pat Nicarico, who appeared at the ceremony with her husband Tom and their two daughters and four grandchildren, said the family was honored to see Jeanine's legacy live on through the center.
"Our entire family is very, very honored and very, very touched," she said.