RADFORD, Va–As the oldest domestic violence program in Virginia, the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley has offered over three decades of service to the city of Radford and the four surrounding counties. Through the recession of the past few years, the organization has managed not to stray from the programs and services it provides to a growing number of people in the NRV every year.
In terms of needs for services, the total number of clients who received domestic violence, sexual assault and legal advocacy assistance from the WRC during the 2011 fiscal year increased by nine percent from the year before. That number is 44 percent higher than ten years ago, while their budget has only increased by about 33 percent within those ten years.
Despite a staff of only 25 employees, their reach across the NRV is broad, encompassing Radford, as well as Floyd, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski counties. Programs the WRC offers include a wide range of support, sheltering and counseling services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (inclusive of women, children and men), a 24-hour/365 day crisis intervention hotline, legal advocacy and transitional housing. Their community outreach program reached over 23,000 people in 2011 in the form of violence prevention programs and educational presentations to adults and school children.
The organization’s Executive Director, Pat Brown, has played an active role with the WRC for 31 years. For 26 of those years Brown has been in her current position, where she advocates for the causes and the mission of the WRC and works to increase public awareness and education about domestic and sexual violence.
Throughout her years of service, Brown has seen countless clients pass through their doors under a broad array of circumstances. She offered the story a woman who literally escaped her home and got away from a particularly abusive husband while he wasn’t looking. After reaching the WRC, she was provided with a safe–and secret–place to take shelter and assess her situation. She was given access to legal advocacy in terms of obtaining protective orders and other proceedings, food and supplies, police safety outside the shelter, and counseling. Clients are assisted in navigating the legal system until there is a resolution, provided with transitional housing, and they are eventually given help in finding a new home or job.
“She walked into our shelter barefooted, and all she had on were the clothes on her back,” said Brown. “That was a memory that I will never forget.”
Brown explained that although some situations are extreme, intimate partner violence happens along a continuum that runs from verbal and emotional abuse to extreme physical abuse and even murder. Some of the cases come to a resolution quickly, while others span months or even years. These are all reasons that Brown believes so strongly in promoting a community free from violence, which is the vision of the organization.
As with any non-profit operation, monetary and in-kind support of all kinds is essential to making the work the WRC does possible. Public funding, which is fluid, and changes shape relative to economic conditions and politics, comprises about 81 percent of the organization’s budget. Those state funds used to come from excesses in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, but last year Virginia’s General Assembly decided on a reallocation of excess TANF funds to the Virginia Department of Social Services’ Strengthening Families Initiative.
Although TANF funds are no longer available to domestic violence programs, domestic violence funding was replaced in this year’s budget by funds from excess Victim/Witness money from the state.
“So, in that regard—for this year—we are not going to lose money,” said Brown.
The remaining portion of the WRC’s funding, around 20 percent, is private money, which comes from sources such as individual donations, churches, civic organizations and fund raising. Brown indicated there had been a 14 percent dip in private donations during the recession. An additional aspect of private support is volunteerism, provided by 100 volunteers who operate the 24/7 hotline, and many additional volunteers who contribute their time throughout the year for different reasons.
According to a study prepared by the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute, private charitable contributions were “down in 2008 and 2009 during the recession.” The study also said that in 2010 private charitable giving had increased back to the same levels as a decade earlier, around $290 billion in the whole US.
Although that seems like bright news for the economy, it does not offer a guarantee that funds will remain in place for particular programs. Many domestic violence programs across the country are suffering because of cuts in public funding, which underscores Brown’s expression of concern about budget cuts as more people begin going back to work and private giving improves.
“As the government heads toward cutting spending … Well, is this an area they’re going to want to cut? I don’t know,” Brown said. “Are we trying to be very vocal that this is a public safety issue, this is a first response, emergency response, ‘this is not where you want to be cutting’… you know? But everybody that thinks they’re going to get cut says the same thing.”
In one arm of its outreach work, the WRC partners with Radford University to provide sexual assault training to residential assistant and resident director staff, and to assist with presentations to University 100 classes and other presentations on campus. RU’s Substance Abuse and Violence Education Support Services Coordinator, Lee Carter, believes the partnership to be a valuable one.
“Part of the reason we do that [partnering] is, first of all, they’re the only agency that provides after-hours services … so we always want to make sure that students know that they are a resource,” Carter said.
Members from the WRC are also involved with RU’s Sexual Assault Taskforce, so they are involved in planning as far as ongoing education, and some policies. According to Carter, the SAVES programs mirror many of the services offered by the WRC and a number of student organizations get involved in raising awareness around sexual assault and violence within the student population.
“I think it’s important for them to be partnered with us, because we’re part of the community. The university is not a stand-alone thing. So if they want a community free of violence, then that has to include RU,” said Carter. “Also, as far as the RU side of the thing goes, we don’t want to operate in a vacuum … if we don’t partner with them, and you know students are going to go and see them … we want to make sure that people are getting the best services they possibly can.”
Brown voiced gratitude for the individuals, groups and churches which continue giving support to the WRC, and the partnerships they have been able to create in the community.
“I think we have tried to position ourselves as a part of the community, not a program outside that’s here to do things for you,” said Brown.
Planning is always ongoing within a non-profit, and the WRC is no exception to that rule. In a new three-year strategic plan, the organization set forward goals to be met by December 2014. They include development of sexual and domestic violence services for older adults, expansion of prevention services to include more of the community and children younger than twelve, and the development of greater communications with the public, perhaps through a future social media presence.