Guest blog by Sarah Pollack, director of development at Women & Children First
Women & Children First is recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month with #PurpleTuesday today, October 17. The Little Rock shelter is asking supporters in the community to wear purple and post pictures on social media to show that they are taking a stand against domestic violence. Use the hashtags #TakeAStand and #DVAM2017 and be sure to tag Women & Children First to show your support!
National statistics show that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be physically abused by an intimate partner at some time in their life.
Every 30 seconds, 10 women or men experience this abuse, and according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, over 20,000 calls are received by domestic violence hotlines each day nationwide. It is sobering to think of the number of people that domestic violence affects every year. Yet in the middle of all of those numbers, the individual stories and lives that Women & Children First (WCF) is helping to change is what continues to motivate the staff every day.
It’s 8:30 a.m. and the shelter is busy. All of the school-aged children have gone off to school, and the moms and other women are getting ready for another day at WCF. As the staff and guests get ready for their morning meeting – a daily ritual – they chat about the changing weather, food at the State Fair and always needing more coffee.
LaKese, WCF’s Assistant Director, finally gets everyone’s attention and starts the meeting. “Are there any new guests here today?” she asks. One woman, sitting on the staircase, quietly raises her hand. “Well, I’ve been here for a few days,” she says. “But this is my first morning meeting. I’m Beth*.” She looks tired, but there is a sense of relief in her eyes. “Welcome,” LaKese answers. “We are so glad that you are here, that you made it here safely and that you have chosen to come.” Everyone, staff and other shelter guests, introduce themselves, pointing out little things that may help Beth as she is at the shelter. Her shoulders soften and a small smile even emerges.
Small announcements are made – upcoming support groups, a job fair next week and a craft night this evening. LaKese asks if anyone has news to share. It’s quiet for a moment, and finally one guest speaks up. “I have a job interview today,” Anna* shares. Everyone claps and congratulates her. “Oh, I have one tomorrow,” another guest shares. More clapping and encouragement. “I am looking at apartments this afternoon,” shares yet another guest, as she bounces her baby on her lap. “Well, congratulations on all of that. Great work and keep it up,” LaKese says, closing the meeting. The staff and guests get up and go on with their day.
It’s a typical start to the day. The shelter, a 54-bed emergency shelter, is central to the programs that WCF offers. During their stay, guests work with the Shelter Advocates to meet their goals, which are all personalized and can be anything from getting new identification, opening a bank account, finding a job or finding housing. The guests also have access to support services, including a Court Advocate, to help file orders of protection or provide court accompaniment, Children’s Services, Counseling, a Sexual Assault Advocate and Transitional Housing. Last year, over 750 guests spent time in the shelter, and the numbers this year are on track to be even higher.
Around lunchtime, Beth meets with Lekita, WCF’s Daytime Shelter Advocate. After hearing about the job fair in the morning meeting, Beth is hopeful that she will be able to find a new job. As she begins to talk through her goals with Lekita, they both realize it will be a longer process than Beth initially expected. First, she needs a new ID card. But to get that, she needs a copy of her birth certificate. Both cost money that Beth doesn’t have, which leaves Lekita with the task of finding a way for WCF to pay for them. Funds are always stretched thin, and WCF has already had to pay for 5 other IDs and birth certificates this month. Beth also needs a way to get to the Revenue Office and the job fair. Lekita happens to have some bus tokens on hand today, something that the shelter often needs donated. Together, they come up with a timeline to get the new ID so that Beth will have it in time to apply for jobs. As she leaves the office, Beth briefly asks about the Transitional Housing Program – but that will have to be another day, as she needs some sort of income before she can fill out the application. As she walks away, it’s clear that both Beth and Lekita feel the pressure of the quick program – it’s a 45 day program, and guests can get extensions for up to 60 days. It’s also clear that both are frustrated with how slow the process can sometimes move.
The guests and advocates face challenges like this daily. Some days, it seems like too much to overcome. But as long as the need exists, WCF will continue to work towards their mission: safety, strength and hope for all victims of family violence.
It’s 8:30 a.m. the next morning, and the shelter is once again busy with the morning bustle. Staff and guests gather for the morning meeting, and LaKese calls it to order. “Any good news?” she asks. With a huge smile on her face, Anna speaks up. “I got the job.”
*Names changed to protect their privacy.
For more information about the services that Women & Children First offers, information about current needs and volunteer opportunities, or to make a donation, please visit www.wcfarkansas.org or contact Sarah Pollack