United Way plans to return services to area by May 1

By Katie Demeria

The United Way of Front Royal has announced its plans to reinstate sexual assault and domestic violence services to Warren County by May 1.

According to Executive Director Lee Smith-Osina, the agency has been searching for a way to provide the services to women in the area after Harmony Place closed in October.

“This is a model of a healthy community response,” Smith-Osina said of the organizations involved.

The United Way awarded a grant to Faithworks Inc. that will allow the organization to act as a fiscal agent for the core staff involved in working with Warren County women in need.

Tammy Sharpe, the former domestic violence program coordinator with Harmony Place, was appointed project director of Project Phoenix, the name Smith-Osina has given to the effort.

Sharpe and two others who also worked with Harmony Place, Trish Kerns and Kim Jones, will operate within a space donated by the Front Royal Presbyterian Church.

“I think it’s a huge benefit. There’s no way we could be claiming victory after six months if this staff, which is already so knowledgeable about the community and the issues, was not involved,” Smith-Osina said.

The staff will provide services ranging from one-on-one counseling to crisis intervention, according to Sharpe.

“We’re really excited to get started,” she said. “I grew up in Warren County, and I have children that were raised here as well. I feel strongly about having a healthy community.”

Faithworks has 501(c)(3) status, which Project Phoenix is still a long way from receiving, according to Smith-Osina. Sharpe said Faithworks will act as an umbrella agency, administering the United Way’s grant and acting as the financial piece that the United Way has been seeking.

The Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance also has offered to provide the project with a year of free hotline services.

The Laurel Center in Winchester will play a key role in returning the services to Warren County, as well.

Another former Harmony Place staff member, Paula Johnson, has joined the center’s team. She will provide counseling services to women in Warren County, traveling regularly to Front Royal so the women there do not have to worry about transporting themselves to Winchester on a regular basis.

Women will also have access to the center’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, located in Winchester.

“We’re going to be providing one-on-one counseling services, support groups, individual case management — everything Harmony Place was doing with the exception of an at-site shelter,” Smith-Osina said.

What she refers to as brick-and-mortar shelters are not available to Project Phoenix, she said, as the federal government is not funding shelters at this time.

But Project Phoenix will offer solutions to women and children who find themselves in imminent danger, according to Sharpe.

“We’re trying to create an agreement with a local motel that would allow us to have our women housed there for a short time, at least, when they are in need,” she said.

For Smith-Osina, this is just the first step. She said she is thrilled with the community’s effort in returning these services to the area, and the next step is guaranteeing permanent funding so they are available permanently.

She said she hopes to start a major fundraising campaign within the next few months.

“Now comes the hard part — making the money,” she said.

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