Giving battered women more help Center is seeking to broaden support it provides to families

April 03, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Deciding that Howard County's battered women need more than the basics -- food, clothes and temporary shelter -- the county's Domestic Violence Center is developing a program to give its clients a measure of self-determination.

The relationship between a battered woman named Yvette and a Howard County company gave the center a clear example of what it would like to do: get the community involved in assisting clients, not just in taking care of their immediate needs, but in reclaiming their lives so they can support themselves and their families.

Yvette -- who asked not to be identified further -- came to Howard County last year after fleeing with her four children from her hometown in another state when her fiance threatened her life.

While living in one of four shelters of the Howard County Domestic Violence Center -- a private, nonprofit organization in Columbia's Long Reach village that provides shelter, counseling and legal services to battered women -- she was "adopted" by Columbia-based Arbitron Co.

It was what that company did for her -- which went far beyond providing the basics -- that inspired the center to seek more cooperation from the community in expanding its services for clients.

That inspiration turned into a program called Women At Work, said Grace Blancett, the center's director of community education. The idea behind the program, which should be operating by next month, is to increase the women's skills and incomes once they emerge from a destructive relationship.

"We just don't want to help women and then turn them away," Blancett said. "We wanted really to build a program to look after their long-term interests.

"Howard County is rich in resources," she said. "We want to tie our clients into the vast network of things that are available."

The Women At Work program will provide mentoring, job-networking opportunities, skills testing and professional attire to its clients. Services will be provided by county institutions and private groups, such as Howard Community College and the American Business Women's Association (ABWA).

"The best way to really impact an abused woman is to be there as a friend," said Rosemary Orner, president of the Columbia chapter of ABWA, whose members are collecting business suits for the battered women to wear as they search for a job, and plan to serve as mentors.

When Arbitron -- a media-information company -- "adopted" Yvette and her children, it quickly provided clothes and emergency cash for the security deposit on a townhouse. The company also tried to hire her, but she became an assistant to a Columbia dentist.

The center's 10-year-old adopt-a-family program invites businesses, private groups and families to sign up to fulfill a client's wish list of a few items for each family member.

Arbitron has adopted families through the center for a number of years, but company officials acknowledge that they may have exceeded everyone's expectations in Yvette's case. The company delivered more than two-dozen bags full of everything from such necessities as clothes to luxury items like a cassette/disc player, computer and radio.

"I never thought it would be the way it was," Yvette said. "Everything we needed, we got."

She added: "We're talking about each of us having one pair of shoes, no socks and no coats. We left everything behind. Now we have two and three of almost everything. My children aren't wanting for anything."

Employees also gave her almost $300 toward the security deposit for her Columbia townhouse.

Arbitron officials said the company has a long history of community service. "It's one of those things that becomes contagious," said Jacinta Marshall, a senior consultant with the company.

After Marshall and another Arbitron employee met with Yvette and were touched by her plight, they pledged to remain in her life at least a little longer. Employees recently requested a list of items she needs for her home. Yvette asked mainly for furniture.

"I think she knows how fortunate she is," Blancett said.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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