By Katie Demeria
The United Way hosted an exploratory meeting Friday designed to seek cooperation from organizations in the area that could help to offer community services to those affected by sexual assault and domestic violence.
The effort began after the closure of Harmony Place in late October, an agency that sheltered individuals experiencing sexual assault or domestic violence.
Because those services are no longer offered in Warren County, anyone dealing with issues like sexual assault are sent to Winchester. There, organizations with the Laurel Center have sexual assault nurse examiners who would work with them.
Those nurses, however, are not available to work with individuals who need counseling if, for example, the sexual assault occurred in the past, or if there are issues of domestic violence, United Way of Front Royal board member Rita Biggs said. Biggs added that it is essential that a hotline be created for those that are in need of counseling.
Many women do not want to uproot themselves and seek help in Winchester, Biggs said. Offering safe counseling for those individuals, she added, and providing a form of shelter in cases of imminent danger, is essential.
"We need to form a community base to fill this problem," Lee Smith-Osina, the United Way of Front Royal's Executive Director said.
Smith-Osina added that it is her belief that Warren County should support other members of the community by providing these essential services.
"The United Way offers itself as the coordinating body for whatever develops from this point on," she said.
Approximately 30 individuals attended the public event, many representing organizations in the area that are involved in either public health or social services. Representatives from Faith Works in Winchester, Front Royal Women's Resource Center, Warren County's Department of Social Services, House of Hope, and Warren County's Ministerial Association were present, among others.
Several members of the audience were also involved in Harmony Place before its closure, and were there to offer their advice based on past experience. Kim Jones volunteered there for over two years.
"I am very concerned, and very hurt," Jones said. "I try to reach out to a lot of the community, to try to help raise money to help the women there ... it's not just the adults, but it's also the kids that are going through this. I'm here as a concerned citizen."
Several solutions were offered during the meeting, though they were largely mentioned tentatively, as this first meeting was meant as a way to bring organizations together for an initial discussion.
"This is a two step process," Smith-Osina said. "The first step is getting those necessary services back to the community, and the second would be returning a brick-and-mortar shelter to the area."
The counseling hotline would be a positive way to complete that first step, but building a shelter, Smith-Osina said, is something that will have to wait until the services have a solid foundation.
"Management of a building will suck all those funds away," Beth Reavis, Director of Warren County's Department of Social Services, warned.
There are three service areas that need to be restored, Smith-Osina said: sexual assault, domestic violence services, and child services.
One possibility, offered by the Laurel Center, was to set up offices in Warren County where the center could help counsel individuals in cases of sexual assault.
"It's definitely a possibility, and would restore one of those services, though possibly the least necessary of the three right now," Smith-Osina said. "If we can set up offices, the Laurel Center is willing to offer physical help here. But, again, it all depends on what else we can do."
A major issue that the United Way is attempting to overcome is getting an organization with 501(c)3 approval from the IRS to take the new services under their wing. That way, Smith-Osina said, any donations made would be tax-deductible.
During the meeting, Lt. Pradeep Ramaji, Commanding Officer for Front Royal's Salvation Army, stood and gave a speech in which he voiced his passionate approval for the United Way's efforts.
Ramaji said that, after the holiday season, he would continue to ring the Salvation Army's traditional donation bells in order to encourage people to give to the cause.
"We're looking for any help we can find," Smith-Osina said. "[The United Way] just has to point the way--and that could be the hardest part."
The United Way expects to start work toward a more definite solution in 2014.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org