Family Justice Center celebrates one-year anniversary of safe house, plans expansion of services

  • Friday, April 25, 2014

April is a big month for the Family Justice Center of Georgetown County. This month marks one year since the nonprofit opened its safe house for victims of domestic violence.

The opening was an important and difficult decision for the board and staff when they started considering that step in 2012 after another nonprofit ceased operations taking the county’s only domestic violence shelter with it. Now the center is expanding its services again as it assists more clients in Georgetown County and prepares to begin making inroads into Horry County.

“Last year was a year of rapid growth for us, not only in the numbers of clients and children that came through our door for help, but in the services that we were able to offer,” said Beverly Kennedy, a co-director at the center along with Vicki Bourus.

The center served 659 clients in 2013 and anticipates the number for this year will exceed 750 as the center’s reputation and scope of services continues to grow.

In addition to opening the safe house last year, the center was able to offer a summer camp program for 22 children receiving services from the center. Donations allowed participants to participate in 10 weeks of day-camp sessions at the Georgetown YMCA.

The center also expanded counseling services, secured funding to bring a dating violence awareness program for teens into all four Georgetown County high schools, and instituted a 24-hourcrisis hotline as a requirement for opening the safe house.

Opening the safe house remains the center’s biggest accomplishment for the year. It took some faith and a lot of work to make sure the center would have the funding and the staff to be able to operate the safe house long term, Kennedy and Bourus said. But a full year in, there’s no question it was the right decision, they agree. The safe house has 11 beds and three bedrooms. It’s at capacity about 80 percent of the time, meaning staff still has to work at times to find shelter in other areas for clients in immediate danger.

The center is already facing a need for a larger safe house.

“Initially we weren’t sure if we’d be able to do it, but we took that leap and it was clearly the right thing to do not only for residents of Georgetown County, but for any victim of domestic violence who has called the crisis hotline,” Kennedy said. “If we had made a different decision, I don’t know where those people would have gone for help.”

The center had to hire additional staff when the center and the crisis line opened, but existing staff also had to step up to help take on extra duties created by those new initiatives. Now they’re preparing to step up again after having been informed more growth is coming.

After hearing from Kennedy and Bourus, the center’s board of directors agreed last month to begin introducing services in Horry County as requested by the Department of Social Services. Like opening the safe house, it’s a decision the board and staff took very seriously and weighed carefully. While expansion into Horry County was approved — with the timing and extent of services to be determined by the co-directors — it was specified the effort must not take the center outside the scope of its current budget and staffing. Plans are to initially put staff in Horry County one day a week through the end of this year.

“We’re going to do this slowly and carefully,” Kennedy said. “We have to be careful not to burnout our staff and we certainly don’t want current services in Georgetown County to be compromised.”

Kennedy and Bourus have already started investigating potential funding sources in Horry County and will continue public awareness efforts in both counties in an effort to not only make sure victims know they have a place to go for help, but to increase community support.

“We need to make sure the communities we serve have a real awareness of how critical this problem is and that people know we exist so they can help us get the word out that services are available, and that they’re free and confidential.”

The center’s clients come from all areas of the county and from all socio-economic levels. The center also gets clients from outside the county who are looking for a place outside their community to escape their abuser.

The center is also gearing up for a special fundraiser next week. LUNAFEST, a national traveling film festival will stop in Georgetown County on May 2 and ticket sales will benefit the Family Justice Center and its work. The festival features nine award-winning short films by, for and about women. The films are shown back-to-back over 90 minutes and will be screened at the Waccamaw High School Auditorium. The event will begin with a reception catered by Bistro 217 at 5:30 p.m. followed by the films. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Advance tickets are available at www.lunafest.org/pawleysisland or at the Family Justice Center office, 1530 Highmarket St., Georgetown. Tickets will also be available at the door. Visit www.lunafest.org for information about this year’s selected short films or to watch film trailers.

For more information about the Family Justice Center, call 843-546-3926 or visit www.fjcgeorgetown.org. Donations for the center and its safe house are always needed and can be made online or mailed to: The Family Justice Center, P.O. Box 366, Georgetown, S.C. 29442.

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