Volunteers join county to welcome safe house

Shelter is Carroll's first for domestic violence victims

February 27, 2005|By Katie Martin and Mary Gail Hare | Katie Martin and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Any doubt about the need for a domestic violence shelter in Carroll County evaporates in the face of a filled-to-capacity new shelter and a long row of T-shirts, decorated with poignant words and pictures by victims of the escalating problem.

The county, the last jurisdiction in the state to open a safe house, celebrated the shelter at the offices of Carroll's Human Services Programs in Westminster on Thursday. The staff showed a video of victims and gave grateful speeches to volunteers who helped renovate the home. Carroll's version of the Clothesline Project provided a backdrop of nearly 70 shirts, created by county children and adults affected by domestic violence.

"The video was haunting and touching with pictures of children that wrench your soul," said Judi Johnson, who, along with her husband, Gordon, and their children, spent the better part of the past six months painting, spackling and cleaning the home. "This is an incredible county that really pulled together to help."

Her daughter Hilary Johnson, 16, said of the work, "I think we made a difference."

Joan S. McKee, project coordinator, thanked the volunteers, saying she could barely recognize them without paint and dust covering their faces and clothing. Area churches and community groups donated everything from child-friendly videos to artwork and draperies.

"This was truly a holy mission," McKee said.

Speakers also noted that the house, whose location is secret, has been at its eight-bed capacity since it opened last month. The first family arrived Jan. 10 and is preparing to move on next week, officials said. Even before the haven opened, the county program provided emergency assistance and shelter -- to 982 victims in 2003.

"If we have no room at the shelter, we find alternative housing right away," said Jeanette Berger, associate director of Carroll's Human Services Program.

The county relied on volunteer labor, but a grant of $885,000 from the state Department of Human Resources was used to purchase, renovate and furnish the house. The three-year grant will also cover operational costs of providing safe housing to women and children for as long as necessary, crisis counseling for victims and abusers, and referrals.

"This facility enhances the safety of domestic violence victims in the county so that they can feel secure as they begin the recovery process," said John Kardys, deputy executive director of the Community Services Administration for the state.

Kardys brought more good financial news. A state grant of about $3,000 will reimburse the county for the new appliances at the home.

The T-shirts decorated the hallways and offices at Human Services Programs in silent testimony to those who could not participate in the festivities.

"For the survivors, it's wonderful," said Laura K. Rhodes, vice president of the county school board and one of the volunteers who made the safe house a reality. "It's a real powerful way of saying publicly what's happened, but still being anonymous."

One royal blue shirt bore the message from a child: "Daddy was supposed to protect me (not hurt me)." A yellow one read, "The beatings stop but the pain continues." A white shirt, which signifies the death of a victim, was decorated with a rose, a tear dropping from an eye and the dates of a life cut short at 16.

people lingered over refreshments after the presentation. Few missed the impact of the shirts.

"It really grips people and they stop and talk about them," Rhodes said.

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