XENIA — For the Family Violence Prevention Center, the end of 2019 marks 40 years of service to Greene County.
In 1979, Greene County Welfare Department employees Charlotte Rangi, Susan Stiles, and Gloria Wolff were meeting families in domestic violence situations who simply had no opportunity to leave or place to go. So the three women pooled their money together and opened the first shelter — a two-bedroom apartment in Yellow Springs — and began incorporation of the Greene County Domestic Violence Project (GCDVP).
“Across the nation, it (domestic violence) was starting to be addressed as a social problem,” Family Violence Prevention Center Executive Director Debbie Matheson said. “We were jumping in very early.”
After one year as a county agency, GCDVP became a private non-profit and moved to its first house in Xenia. The project relocated twice more until settling into a Victorian house in the Water Street District of Xenia.
Matheson describes the wooden door and plexiglass barrier at the front of the old home.
“That was what was between a batterer’s frustration, anger, trying to put themselves back into power. That was what stood between employees, volunteers, victims, and it was really the illusion of safety versus having real, practical components,” Matheson said, “because we know on average a domestic violence survivor is going to leave their partner seven times before they make their final leave.”
The project held community events in the late ’90s to broach conversation on the topic of becoming a disclosed location.
“The intention was to move toward a space that would allow survivors to find us and not to be hidden, to be someplace where if they needed us they could come right up to the gate anytime, day or night, and just say help, please,” Matheson explained.
The current home — named the Kathryn K. Hagler Family Violence Prevention Center (FVPC) — opened in 2001 as the first disclosed location at 380 Bellbrook Avenue in Xenia.
“I think part of being able to tell people where we are and that there’s help simplifies it,” Harmony Thoma, FVPC child/family counselor and community relations coordinator, said. “There are already enough barriers. Traditional ideas of domestic violence are that it’s hidden, that it’s not anything we should talk about outside of the home. It allows people to realize we need to bring that discussion out of enclosed places and work toward prevention and try to help families not live in situations like that. If you know where to get help, it elevates your strength and courage so much.”
The center is secure with a gate and fence, cameras and various layers of security.
“I wonder if the ladies’ vision was anything like it has come to be,” Thoma said.
Beyond a safe house with nine bedrooms and 32 beds, FVPC offers prevention, intervention and a 24-hour crisis hotline. FVPC is also a Certified Mental Health Agency, offers DIVERT services to reach back out to survivors, and provides counseling to people identified as abusive.
Newer positions provide support for sexual assault survivors at local universities as well as victims who struggle with substance use. Thoma said the center is there for human trafficking victims, too.
Despite the changes in name and location and the evolution of its services since 1979, the attitude of the people who drive the organization remains the same.
“We’re very thankful,” Matheson said. “Family Violence Prevention Center doesn’t do this alone. We do this with the support of so many folks from the community who are willing to give of their time, to tell others that we exist, to bring light bulbs and give of their finances.”
Matheson said the center’s efforts hinge off of local partners who are also addressing domestic violence. An important part of this is the Greene County Consortium on Domestic and Sexual Violence, established in 1987, which developed a county-wide policy to enforce Ohio domestic violence law. The set of protocols is kept up-to-date and identifies how various entities — from police and hospitals and schools to the prosecutor’s office and children services and the courts — are to respond to domestic violence in the community.
“It took energy from this trio of ladies in 1979 to decide that we have to do something about this, that there’s a need here that’s not being fulfilled,” Thoma said. “Seeing a need and figuring out how to fill that need is something that has happened (here) throughout the 40 years.”
The work isn’t over yet and 2020 will be a strategic planning year.
“We are running out of space,” Matheson said. “There is a challenge in making sure we have enough space to do all the programs that we need.”
Matheson said, as part of the solution, she’s working to find more ways to take services directly to other community programs, wherever they are needed.
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