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Safe Families: Family justice center finally finds a home
By Jackie R. Broach
“Doing the happy dance.”
That’s the subject line of an e-mail circulating this month among those involved with Safe Families of Georgetown County.
And it’s a good description of their feelings as they prepare to move forward with plans to create a family justice center, said Garvey Winans, a board member.
After several years and a great deal of searching, Safe Families has finally found a home for the center it envisions: a one-stop location where victims of domestic violence can go for aid and find a range of services, such as law enforcement, court, medical, legal and counseling.
The group signed a lease this month on a building at 1530 Highmarket St. in Georgetown and is raising money to renovate it, with plans to open the new center Sept. 1. It’s three blocks from the county judicial center that opened last year.
It will be one of about 50 family justice centers in the nation, and the second to open in South Carolina. A center opened in Spartanburg in 2006 and another is under development in Greenville.
Winans said some have remarked to him that the goal to open in September is a very optimistic one.
“I said if you set it for December, you open in March, and if you set it for March, you open in June. I’ve seen how things go, so we’re shooting for September and hopefully we’ll get there,” he said. “I think we can if we’re able to raise enough money.”
The group got a good deal on the 7,000-square-foot building, a former medical office. It is in good shape, but needs renovations, which are projected to cost about $75,000.
In addition to basic repairs and maintenance, computers need to be installed, along with a better security system, and the floor plan will need to be altered to accommodate the partners that will have space in the facility, including the solicitor’s office, the sheriff’s office, municipal police departments, Department of Social Services and Citizens Against Spouse Abuse.
Safe Families plans to hold a fundraiser at the facility on May 15.
An architect and contractor have volunteered their services to get the building ready, and others have committed to help provide materials.
Inmates from the county jail were at work this week, cutting back the overgrown landscaping.
“We don’t want to leave anyplace for anyone to hide,” said Thurman Kenley, who is in charge of facilities for the sheriff’s office, as he looked over piles of limbs and brush outside the building.
A tentative floor plan was expected this week and volunteers have already started cleaning up at the facility. The contractor is expected to begin work by the end of next month.
“People are stepping forward left and right,” said Carol Winans, vice president of the board and Garvey’s wife. “We did not know who to call for, say, a general contractor. We hadn’t even discussed which architect to use and they came to us.”
Carol said lack of a space for the center was the group’s biggest hurdle. Members had petitioned Georgetown County Council repeatedly to provide space, but without success.
Without a building, “we could only reach a certain point as far as fundraising,” Carol said. “People would only give so much toward an idea. A wall came down when we got that building. I feel really good about the support we’re receiving now and it’s a big signal we are going to get the help we need from the community to make this center a reality.”
The center is something the county needs desperately, according to the Winanses and other proponents, including Sheriff Lane Cribb and Solicitor Greg Hembree, both of whom support the center.
“I think the statistics say it all,” Garvey said. “If we just look at the murders, last year we had four and a suicide. This year, there have been two murders and a suicide, and we’re barely a fourth of the way through the year. It’s a horrible problem. Everybody out there knows a victim, even if they don’t know they do.”
In 2009, 505 cases of criminal domestic violence were reported in Georgetown County, many involving repeat offenders. And many more went unreported.
According to national statistics, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend every 12 seconds in the U.S., and three or more women and at least one man are murdered by their partners or spouses every day. And it’s a problem that affects people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.
In the four years since a family justice center opened in Spartanburg, domestic violence and homicides have decreased significantly, said Lynn Hawkins, executive director of the center.
Reports of domestic violence dropped 14 percent last year and murders decreased by 62 percent from 2008 to 2009.
“It just makes a huge difference,” Hawkins said.
While it’s difficult for one agency working alone to make a dent in the problem, real progress has been made by having many agencies link forces through the center, she said.
The family justice center concept is based on a model developed in San Diego in 2002, where victims of domestic violence can obtain prompt, complete, efficient and caring service in one centralized location. Victims are often sent from agency to agency, which can make dealing with the trauma of abuse even more difficult.
In addition to making it easier for victims to receive aid, the center should free up space in other facilities where services for domestic violence victims are currently located, and cut time spent by sheriff’s deputies shuttling victims from one location to another, as well as gasoline used.
Attendees can enjoy heavy hors d’oeuvres while touring the building and will be able to select specific renovation projects to sponsor.
Speakers for the event are still being lined up.
The event will be from 6-8 p.m. Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased in Georgetown at the Safe Families office at 904 Front Street, or Miss Lizzie’s boutique, and in the Pawleys Island area at Bistro 217, Perrone’s and Taz. For information, call 546-3926.