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United Way makes plans to return services to area

Effort aims to help victims of sexual assault, domestic violence

By Katie Demeria

Lee Smith-Osina, executive director of the United Way of Front Royal, is hoping to raise a phoenix in 2014.

"The Phoenix Project" is the title Smith-Osina has given the United Way's effort to reestablish services for individuals who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence in Warren County.

The effort was sparked when Harmony Place closed its doors last year.

"The whole theory is of the phoenix dying in flames and rising from the ashes in a new form," Smith-Osina said. "I don't want people to always have to mention Harmony Place when they talk about it, and I want it to have a name that everyone involved can use."

The United Way has been calling for local agencies to submit requests for proposals, the deadline for which is Feb. 1. Smith-Osina said she is confident that several local groups will offer aid.

The Laurel Center, she said, will begin offering counseling services in Warren County for those who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence.

Other agencies, she said, will offer a methodology for those in imminent danger, which likely will include a subcontract with a motel to provide emergency shelter.

"It's a beginning, but we're a long way from being there for sure," Smith-Osina said. "For me, the most important thing is to at least get these services here in the county."

Once those agencies are situated, she said, the United Way will begin moving forward with the Phoenix Project.

The next step, Smith-Osina said, is to turn to the community for donations. A fundraising drive is tentatively scheduled for April.

"I'm hoping to also have the United Way match their donations, to encourage people to give," she said. "Once April comes, and we have the services rolling, we can then turn to the community and ask for their help."

The services to return to Warren County are not likely to include what Smith-Osina refers to as a "brick-and-mortar" shelter anytime soon. The Federal government is limiting funding of those kinds of services, she added.

"We're starting to see the first effects of the tea party bunch saying let's cut everything we can cut," she said. "I'm hoping there's a happy medium between an $850,000 building and nothing."

In the meantime, women experiencing issues with sexual assault or domestic violence will have the opportunity to speak with a Laurel Center counselor in Warren County.

Donna Carpenter, executive director of the Laurel Center, said offering those services to Warren County makes sense for the organization, as they already provide them to Warren County women who travel to Winchester.

"We'll hire a full time staff person who will work out of our office in Winchester but spend a significant amount of time in Warren County, to stop people from having to travel," she said.

Transportation, Carpenter pointed out, can sometimes be an issue, and the center wants to remove that added stress.

"We're excited about doing it, because I feel like if we don't then those services aren't going to be available," she added.

Carpenter said the Laurel Center likely will begin the hiring process for a Warren County counselor in late March.

The center's involvement, Smith-Osina said, is one of the first steps necessary to restoring sexual assault and domestic violence support services to the area.

"I'm excited, it's very interesting to see who will get involved and how it will happen," she said. "This is going to be our top priority for the year."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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