XENIA — Thirty-two beds … There are 32 beds in a safe house in Xenia, where men and women and children go to talk. To eat. To sleep. To escape.
But, the shelter provides more than listening ears and hot meals and clean beds. It gives its visitors a chance to leave violent, abusive, unstable situations.
Right now, those beds at the Kathryn K. Hagler Family Violence Prevention Center (FVPC) are full. There’s more, actually — toddlers in toddler beds, babies in cribs, and a wait list that keeps growing.
And so, the staff at FVPC are trying to bring a topic to the forefront of conversation that in the past was, at best, hushed.
Domestic violence, they say, is still a tough topic even in 2017.
“Nobody really talks about it, the issue, unless you’re personally impacted,” board president Eileen Austria said. “How do you get it out there in a way that people really care about it? That’s a challenge.”
The center has transformed over the years from a little apartment in Yellow Springs to homes in Xenia to the renovated-church and shelter it is today.
Despite the change in buildings, its mission remains the same: to reduce domestic violence and its impact in Greene County. The organization focuses on intervention, outreach, residence and prevention.
“We wanted people to be able to walk up to the gate, ring the bell and say ‘I need help’ and be able to come right in and get that help. And so people do that,” acting director Jaime Lennon said.
According to Lennon, some stay for safe housing, which is a four-month program with 30-day extensions if needed. While there, residents work closely with a case manager to help achieve independence. This might mean help with housing, education, or finding a job.
Counseling is offered for these residents but also for anyone else. Others call the 24-7 crisis hotline, just to talk or to seek long-term help, in which a “safety plan” is always the first priority. The plan might include calling 9-11, considering protection orders, packing and hiding a bag or making an extra set of keys.
“Leaving your home — that’s the riskiest part of a domestic violence situation,” Sandra Bunn, board member and public relations coordinator, said.
Lennon said the center recorded 11,297 shelter nights and 263 crisis calls in 2016.
“Anybody can call anytime. We want to make sure somebody’s here today to be that listening ear,” she said.
The center is unique in that it is one of the only safe houses in Ohio that houses men, and one of the only shelters in the area that houses single women. Families with children are also welcome.
Recently, one focus for the center is middle school and high school outreach.
“It [domestic violence] crosses all boundaries,” Lennon said of the importance of reaching students. “I think a lot of people do think it’s people who are poor, or who have drug or alcohol problems, but it’s really not.”
FVPC is a nonprofit agency, meaning it is not a governmental agency and does not receive government funds to operate. Instead, the nonprofit survives by staff applying for state and federal grants — which are never guaranteed — and by receiving individual donations.
“We really are trying to reach out for more community partnerships,” Austria said. “It doesn’t have to be just a check — there’s so many ways that you can reach out and help.”
Among those ways are organizing collections at church, wearing jeans on Friday for donation, sponsoring a luncheon for clients or offering help during holidays. Volunteers at the shelter cook meals, clean, babysit and answer administrative phones.
“I want this to be the first nonprofit that people think about in Greene County,” Austria said.
And she said there’s another — more immediate — way to help.
FVPC will be hosting “An Uncommon Affair: Denim and Diamonds” at 6 p.m., Friday, May 5 at the Greene County Fairgrounds Assembly Hall. The casual night will feature a buffet dinner, raffles and games, and a silent and live auction offering vacation getaways, sports games and special events. Individual tickets are $75. For reservations, contact Harmony Byrd at 937-376-8526 ext. 112.
Austria continued, “There’s a real need — we are serving Greene County residents and if we were not here, the question is, where would these families go? If we weren’t able to sustain these efforts, truly, would they all be on the streets?”
Despite the challenges, the work continues because, well, it works.
“At the end of the day I think not only is it hope that we provide here, but a path forward in a very methodical way … we can get you back on your feet and we have so many examples of that,” Austria said.
Lennon recalled one of her favorite stories. One that depicts a young mother living in the shelter who just wanted her GED but gave up again and again.
“A few months after she left, I got a picture in the mail of her in a cap and gown holding her son … On the back, she wrote, ‘Thanks to you and Family Violence Prevention Center, I had the courage and strength to do it — and I did it’.”
Reach Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498.