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Posted May 11, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Laurel Center takes step toward new home

Non-profit center has passed halfway point in campaign for larger facility

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

The Laurel Center in Winchester turns away as many victims of domestic and sexual assault as the shelter helps each year because it lacks space.

But the non-profit organization on Friday celebrated a milestone in its efforts to build a new home -- a facility representatives say should accommodate the 400 women and children who need emergency shelter annually, according to Executive Director Donna Carpenter.

The Laurel Center Intervention for Domestic and Sexual Violence broke ground on its new emergency shelter and outreach center at the site of the former Winchester Feed and Seed. The groundbreaking kicks off the second phase of the center's $4.3 million capital fundraising campaign needed to build the new home. The center recently passed the halfway point of its campaign and has raised $2.23 million.

The Laurel Center, formerly the Shelter for Abused Women, began efforts to find a new home in 2005. The agency ran into difficulty trying to find a site. Eventually the center found and purchased the property on North Cameron Street. Fundraising helped pay for initial work at the site and the demolition of the buildings on the former Winchester Feed and Seed property, Carpenter recalled.

The new, handicapped-accessible facility as planned would double the center's current capacity and allow the organization to provide emergency shelter to at least 400 women and children each year, according to Carpenter. The facility also will provide private and safe living quarters for all center residents; office space for the agency's 18 programs which provide aid to more than 2,000 people each year; and rooms for conferences, meetings, counseling, training and educational areas.

The turnout of nearly 200 people surprised organizers of the event who had expected closer to 50, according to Carpenter.

With the groundbreaking the agency expects construction for Phase II to begin in June, Carpenter said. The second phase calls for the construction of the building's shell and roof to protect the inside, she said. During the eight to 10 months of construction the center will continue to raise money for the project, Carpenter said. The third phase involves further construction of the inside of the center which Carpenter estimates would take another eight to 10 months.

The agency anticipates waiting another 1 1/2 to two years before construction is complete and the center can move into its new home, according to Carpenter.

"I mean it could be sooner," Carpenter said. "It just depends on how the fundraising goes. So far it's going very and we had such a good turnout this morning, a lot of them were actually some of our major donors. It was good to seem them there and it was also good to have the opportunity to show them. ... this isn't just a dream. We're actually gonna build this building. Funders need to know that."

"Certainly if I were putting in the kind of money they are, I'd want to see something happening," Carpenter added.

Speakers at the groundbreaking included Becky Allanson, the center's board president, and Jim Stutzman, who serves on the agency's capital campaign committee. Stutzman explained to the crowd the need to complete the campaign and reach the goal within the next year, according to Carpenter. Mary Shockey also spoke about the importance of the center to the community and the fact its future home lies adjacent to the Our Health campus which houses several agencies that offer services used by their clients.

"A lot of them don't have transportation so we can make it much easier by having everything right there," Carpenter said.

Currently, the Laurel Center operates out of a small, 19th-century home in the city but outgrew its 1,800 square foot space years ago. As Carpenter noted the agency has enough space to provide emergency shelter for 200 women and children. However, the center turns away another 200 women and children in need of shelter because of a lack of space.

"Women come in in crisis and they have to share bedrooms with other people that they don't know so it's kind of crisis-making," Carpenter said.

"If they're in imminent danger we'll house them even if we're full and then try to make other arrangements," Carpenter added. "But if they're not in imminent danger then we send them, refer them to other shelters in the planning district and some of them have transportation to get there and some of them don't so some just have to wait, which, you know, can be a dangerous situation for them."

While the center sees clients mainly from Frederick County and Winchester, Carpenter estimates at least 10 percent of those people seeking help live in other areas such as Shenandoah and Warren counties.

Carpenter said she expect those numbers to increase when they move into the new facility and the center may start taking in clients from other shelters that have run out of space.

Visit www.thelaurelcenter.org or call 667-6160 for more information.

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