RW INSPIRE: Kathie Bivona
Owner, Green Eyed Girl
By Nicolette Reidy | Photo by Rita LaVeck
The U.S. Department of Justice states that on average, 2,100 children are reported missing each and everyday. Thanks to organizations such as The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the recovery rate for these children has grown to 96%. Rochester’s own Kathie Bivona had a big hand in beginning the local branch.
Growing up in Auburn, New York as a childhood friend of John Walsh, Bivona was deeply affected by the tragic murder of Walsh’s son, Adam, in 1981. “John and I had been friends since we were 12 years old,” says Bivona. Our families were friendly. But we lost touch after he moved to Florida.”
The news about Adam’s disappearance, the same day as Bivona’s own birthday, was undoubtedly devastating. Together with her husband, Lou, they began sending donations to the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center in South Florida, dedicated to finding other missing and abducted children. Soon after, members around the Rochester community heard about the Walsh foundation, and also wanted to get involved. The Bivona’s began holding meetings in their home, when they soon realized that something more organized was needed. In 1984, the Bivona’s living room meetings became The Adam Walsh Center, a division of the national center they had been supporting. “All the right doors opened,” said Bivona. “There wasn’t any organization devoted to this cause in Rochester at the time, so it was meant to be.”
Through fundraisers and events, the foundation quickly grew through generous donations from the community.
In 1992, The Adam Walsh Center merged with The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to become the first New York branch for this vital organization. Today there are satellite offices in Buffalo, Albany, and Utica.
Bivona has been actively involved with the fundraising and mission NCMEC, stating that educating families is a crucial piece. “Cyber bulling, cyber stalking, and internet safety is one of our main focuses today,” says Bivona. “Abuse has always been around, but the internet has created another way to reach children. The education [of types of abuse] is so important.”
Because our community was so inspired by the work that Kathie and Lou have done to better the welfare for children, in 2004, a second advocacy agency came about donning their name: Bivona Child Advocacy Center, which shares a building with the Rochester chapter of NCMEC that the Bivona’s started. Its purpose is to be a safe place for victims of child abuse, made up of medical professionals, therapists, and law enforcement officers who provide treatment, support and hope. Bivona is honored to have the center share her name. “It’s been an amazing, incredible journey,” she states.
The work that the Bivona’s have done to bring awareness to child abuse deserves the highest of praise. Neither one realized what their path in life would become. Kathie admits that although she was dragged “kicking and screaming” when she first made the move to Rochester 30 years ago, she now loves the city she calls home. “I didn’t know anyone here, I thought my life was set. But nothing in life is coincidental. Being part of [NCMEC] has changed my life for the better.”
If working with two child advocacy centers wasn’t enough, Bivona also finds time to indulge her passion for fashion. Loving fashion from a young age and holding a degree from FIT in merchandising, Bivona now hosts a home party business for women’s accessories called “Green Eyed Girl”. When asked about her strong work ethic, Bivona replied, “I’m the eldest of four, and I’m also a perfectionist, which is good and bad. It pushes me to do the best I can. You have to take a few risks in life. I love life—faith, family, and friends—that’s what life is all about.”
For more information about The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, visit www.missingkids.com. To learn more about the Bivona Child Advocacy Center, go to www.bivonacac.org.