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Lisa Project founder hopes to raise awareness

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Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 9:28 am, Wed Jun 20, 2012.

Colorado native Gene Hardin, 41, said he was one of those husbands that volunteered for events and fundraisers for his wife, who is the executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County.

He wanted to help in any way he could.

A resident of San Joaquin County for 23 years, Hardin and his wife decided to take a day trip to San Francisco to get a peek at the King Tut exhibit in late 2009.

It was a powerful display, full of interesting facts and figures.

As he and his wife walked outside, Hardin turned to his wife. He had an idea.

Why not make an exhibit educating others on child abuse? Why not raise awareness through a hands-on experience like what had been done in the King Tut exhibit?

As Hardin put it, his wife told him to "get on it" with planning what the exhibit would feature and what it would look like.

"(The Lisa Project) really came about because of my wife," Hardin said. "That is it."

Hardin, who was between jobs at the time, got to work. By early 2010, a design had been set in motion.

In April 2010, the first exhibit debuted in Stockton, bringing in 5,000 visitors in the month it was open. The exhibit cost a total of $25,000 to build — that money was brought in through fundraising by Hardin and those involved with the Lisa Project.

But the executive board of the Child Abuse Prevention Council had bigger things in store for the exhibit.

They decided to invest $35,000 to build a portable exhibit that could travel across California to help raise awareness for child abuse.

Hardin used his background in radio and television production to help promote the project — he graduated from Metropolitan State College of Denver with a degree in broadcast journalism. He helped create flyers and eventually the website that would accompany the campaign's outreach efforts.

This month, the Lisa Project exhibit in Lodi has drawn a little more than 1,000 visitors so far, Hardin said.

Now, Hardin wants to do more.

Hardin said he would love to have the Lisa Project exhibit in all 58 counties in California. He added that the next step, hopefully, is to see about expanding the exhibit to be displayed in other states throughout the country.

The goal of the Lisa Project is to raise awareness of child abuse, Hardin said, because it is a prevalent issue many face, no matter where they live.

"What I hope is that the more we allow people to talk about it, the more they realize there are safe places to talk about it," he said. "People still think it is something that happened only in the past. They go, 'Oh, that still happens?'"

Thus far, the Lisa Project has had over 35,000 visitors since it debuted in 2010.

Hardin said the experience has been "humbling" and that he is proud to be a part of a project that addresses a serious matter that can be considered a taboo talking point.

"Our whole intent was to be this awareness campaign," he said. "But (the Lisa Project) has gone so much further than that."

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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