Athens group seeks to help domestic violence victims
Whether they need toiletries, pots and pans, clothing, a tank of gasoline, a place to stay, counseling or have assorted other needs, victims of domestic violence find it at the Family Peace Project.
"The types of services we provide change based on what an individual's need is," Executive Director Marlena Taylor said.
"Our bedrock foundational support is from churches," Ms. Taylor said. She also credits community support from individuals, civic organizations, businesses, foundations and others for the agency being able to respond with a broad range of services to needs of victims of domestic violence.
"We get support from everybody," she said.
The Athens project networks with domestic violence agencies in Tyler, Terrell, Kaufman, Jacksonville and Palestine to accommodate in those towns Henderson County victims of family violence when their safety is in jeopardy.
Vice versa, those agencies may send victims in those towns to Athens, although most of the Family Peace Project's clients are from Henderson County
The Family Peace Project evolved from a conversation among a few women after seeing a television report about a peace accord reached in the Middle East and a news report about a domestic violence homicide, Ms. Taylor said.
"It has grown from that initial conversation to what can we, as a community, be doing to alleviate some of the immediate needs of families in crisis and what can we be doing (for) long-term prevention and long-term strategies in working with the resources that are here to leverage the support," she said.
Elizabeth Hitz was the driving force behind the beginning of the Family Peace Project in the mid-1990s in an attempt to bring peace at home, Ms. Taylor said.
The purpose was to provide resources and support from a faith-based perspective to Henderson County families in crisis because of violence, Ms. Taylor said. The Family Peace Project organized as a faith-based 501c3 nonprofit, nondenominational agency.
Ms. Taylor, who was hired as director in September 2001 and has about 15 volunteer helpers, said local people were seeing a need for the agency more and more, punctuated by a local high profile domestic violence homicide/suicide around June 2001.
A family donated a house that was totally refurbished. It opened in 2002 as a single-family transitional home for victims of family violence and later another transitional home was acquired. One is a single-family transitional home for independent living and the other is a multi-family supportive living transitional home.
"As we grow and change, we adapt to the needs," Ms. Taylor said. After the trauma of being assaulted, victims of family violence are devastated and distraught and, "We look at what can we do to help," she said.
"One of the things that's real important for people to understand is that it (family violence) happens a lot of times behind closed doors and they don't see the effects of it."
Family violence impacts the community, Ms. Taylor added, citing as examples that it affects how children do in school, and it affects the medical community because victims may seek medical treatment saying they fell down the stairs when they were actually injured by another person.
The Family Peace Project tries to provide resources to protect and help violence victims, educates the community about the aspects of family violence and the need for the community to help alleviate the problem.
"The need in a rural area is very critical," Ms. Taylor said, since victims might need to travel outside the area for protection, uprooting children.
"I look at our ministry from the perspective (of) what does each person need," Ms. Taylor said. "It can be a list as long as your arm so we prioritize and decide where we start. We have things here we can meet the needs of the individual while we are figuring out what the next step is."
Although they may stay in transitional housing operated by the Family Peace Project, families coming through the peace project are not staying; they are passing through, she said.
"We are attending to them whether it's a night of sleep, clothing or personal care items like toothpaste, deodorant, socks, underwear or cold medicine for their children," Ms. Taylor said. "The challenge we have is juggling all these needs."
She also talks with clients about their long-term outlook, asking them what they have always wanted to do. If, for example, a violence victim has wanted to be a cosmetologist, she may refer the person to Trinity Valley Community College's high school equivalency program and offer to pay the $75 required to take a GED test.
If the victim wants to work as a waitress, she provides uniforms and may buy shoes for work.
Ms. Taylor has seen a lot of growth in terms of victims learning how to make decisions and how to make choices. "We try to show them we are going to honor them and respect them as an individual and give them a choice," she said.
If they need food, Ms. Taylor refers them to food pantries and for food stamps. In that way, the peace project is "a conduit of information," she said.
"Every day is different. It's a joy being in a ministry like this. It's making a difference one life at a time. It might not fix everything, but at least they know they are cared about and they have some support. I get to see divine intervention all the time," Ms. Taylor said.
Last year, the Family Peace Project served 282 families, of whom 116 were new clients.
How long a family receives service depends on the situation.
In one case, a mom came last May after being thrown over a piece of furniture, suffering a broken foot, The woman needed time to heal, has found a job, someone gave her a car and she no longer needs to stay in the project's transitional housing.
"She is still my client; we are still walking along side of her although it (the help) is not as intense as it was last May," Ms. Taylor said.
Ms. Taylor has rented U-Haul trailers for violence victims to leave Athens and she has provided $60 for a victim to rent a storage unit for her belongings until she could find an apartment.
Family violence victims may need help paying a back ticket so they can get their suspended license released so they can go to a job or they may need a new tire for their car, Ms. Taylor said. If she is helping them get set up in an apartment, they may need a broom, mop, cleanser, shower curtain, scouring pad and similar items, she said.