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Face-to-face with child abuse
The Lisa Project offers graphic depiction thru June 30
The drug paraphernalia left behind in this dingy makeshift apartment is a haunting reminder of what some children like young Evan who was often by himself in this squalor go through on a daily basis. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

The strong smell of marijuana penetrates the air and drug paraphernalia is evident throughout the room.

Pill bottles, snubbed out joints and a makeshift meth lab litter the disgusting apartment, and the small refrigerator in the corner of the room is open and completely empty.

And what’s most horrifying is that this drug den is the home to Evan, a young boy whose haunting story is told as part of The Lisa Project – a multi-sensory exhibit started by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County to show the multi-faceted sides of child abuse and how it exists in our society today.

Rather than just telling Evan’s story, The Lisa Project – located in the corner of the parking lot of JC Penney near Union Road and Atherton Drive – will give people a chance to both see and feel the conditions in which child abuse can take place. The exhibit opens on June 2 and runs through June 30.

“It’s really like taking a child by the hand and having them lead you through it,” said Child Abuse Prevention Council Director Gene Hardin. “This gives people a chance to see it and feel it and smell it, and that’s something that opens the eyes of a lot of people. It really promotes awareness about these situations.”

The self-guided tour through the modular building utilizes an iPod that tells the story of a handful of children that are being abused in a myriad of different ways – physically, sexually and emotionally. It’s neglect in the case of Evan. And just to set the scene of what these children face, an emotionally taxing 911 call from a six-year-old girl named Lisa – for whom the exhibit is named – starts everything off.

Because the experience is so vivid, counselors are on hand at the end of the 25-minute tour to help people break down some of the feelings experienced if they need help. It’s not uncommon, Hardin said, to have people who have been victims of abuse recall the feelings and experiences that they went through.

“There’s a lot of shame and guilt that people associate with being abused, even when you’re the victim. People who have been victims don’t often talk about it,” he said. “That’s why we have resources available for people who may need it.”

The Lisa Project debuted last year in a building in Downtown Stockton, with the individual scenes separated by set walls instead of the fully encased rooms used today.

It was a phone call from an agency in Tulare County that planted the seed for the exhibit – which had been worked on for over a year before it was ready to go – to go mobile. A modular was obtained, the scenes were built, and the rest is history.

Visalia and Bakersfield have both been stops in the past, and the project came to Manteca after spending a month in Sacramento.

And it takes a lot to make it happen.

For the month that it’ll be in Manteca, anywhere from 150 to 200 volunteers will be utilized to staff the building – which will be open five days a week during that time frame.

Independent donations from local businesses and support from other agencies help make the project possible, and Hardin – who works with his wife to operate the non-profit agency – says that the group is thrilled to receive the support that they do from the communities that they’ve traveled to.

“This is about raising awareness and we’re glad that we’re able to do that with this,” he said. “It really is like having a child take you by the hand and having them tell you their story, and hopefully this shows people that there are things that they can do to get involved.”

Because of mature themes the organizers have rated the experience “PG-13.” The exhibit will be open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

For additional information call (209) 644-5308 or visit