WARSAW — The sharp economic downturn of recent years has left many businesses struggling to remain viable, as revenues become scarce and payrolls are cut. In what could be seen as a vicious circle of declining prosperity, many of the organizations that offer help to those trying to stay afloat now find themselves grappling with the same uncertainties.
One local organization witnessing the affects of the financial plight is Sarah’s Refuge, a crisis center located in Warsaw. Opening its doors in 1994, the center offers assistance, including a 24-hour crisis line, temporary shelter, transportation, counseling services and training to women and children who have suffered abuse and sexual assault. In addition to a housing shelter, the center also operates a thrift store on West Hill Street to help raise funds for their program.
Doreen Manley, the center’s executive director, has seen first hand how economic conditions can affect not just business decisions but the health of a community as well. “The economic situation contributes to a lot of the domestic violence,” she stated. “We have seen that.”
Manley said Sarah’s Refuge has also been hit hard. “The worst part is when the grant money doesn’t come and you want to help and you can’t help. You look for other sources, but there just aren’t many right now.”
Christy Williams, a manager with Sarah’s Refuge, echoed Manley’s concerns. “We need funding; donations are not coming in. We’re going through tough times but everybody’s in the same boat, so it makes it hard to ask for money.”
While the center has been receiving sufficient donations of items such as food and clothing, financial donations have been lacking, coming to only $5,000 over the last year.
“The list of donors this year has been mighty small,” remarked Williams, who said staff members have been forced to pay out-of-pocket for some of the shelter’s items.
Lack of funds has also resulted in employee pay schedules being pushed back several months. “We’re running on fumes,” commented Williams.
Manley said the crisis center relies equally on donations and grant money to fund their day-to-day operations. “They kind of even out. There’s three grants we receive under the umbrella of one grant and for two of those we have to do a 20 percent match.”
Manley said the match could be in the forms of volunteer time or in-kind donations.
“We need the private donations because we can only use the grant money for what it’s budgeted for,” said Manley. “Everything else has to come from our donations.”
A former hospice worker who took over leadership of the crisis center six months ago, Manley said she has tried to maintain a positive attitude throughout the crisis. “I’m a people person; I’m happier doing stuff for others. Even though we go through these financial situations, we still manage to find resources. We find extra gas money to get our clients back and forth to school; we take and divide whatever we’ve got at home with the shelter. We manage, by the grace of God.”
One local resident who has benefited from Manley and Williams’s persistence is Brenda Thompson. Last January, after a troubling encounter with the father of one of her three children, Thompson said she was forced to leave her parent’s home, where she was living at the time.
According to Thompson, conditions at the residence were harrowing.
“I was sexually assaulted by my stepfather, but I had no where else to go. After the outbreak with my daughter’s father, we had a huge argument and they (stepfather and mother) called the cops and told them I had to get out.”
The police advised Thompson to seek out assistance through the Department of Social Services, who directed her to Sarah’s Refuge. “I talked to the ladies and told them my story and they talked to Social Services. I had to fill out paperwork and give emergency contact numbers in case anything happened while we were here,” remembered Thompson.
After a place was secured for her at the shelter, Thompson said police escorted her back to her parent’s home so she could pick up her belongings as well as medication for her nine-year-old son, who suffers from a variety of health problems, including diabetes, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and seizures.
“Once I got settled in with the kids they helped me out if I needed it. I had to look for housing while I was here, and they told me about a few places and they would call and ask around if they saw something,” remarked Thompson, who said she remained at the shelter until the middle of May.
Thompson said finding an organization that was willing to lend a helping hand was crucial to her survival.
“It meant a lot. If I didn’t have the shelter I don’t know what I would have done. I thought I might lose my kids if I didn’t find somewhere. If it wasn’t for them there’s no telling what would have happened.”
While her children still aren’t allowed to see her family, Thompson said they have weathered the emotional storm surprisingly well. “We’re going to counseling every week. They’re getting through it pretty good. We actually got my oldest son into football. He loves that. His grades have picked up and he doesn’t seem as stressed.”
Thompson said she has remained close with the staff at Sarah’s Refuge. “I still talk to the ladies here, and if I don’t go to counseling that week, I vent it out on whatever I have to say, and they listen to me.”
Thompson said the relationships she’s built at the crisis center go beyond counselor and patient. “I consider them family,” she stated. “I also got to know others who had been through the same things I’ve gone through.”
Though currently unemployed, Thompson said she was well on her way to providing a better future for herself and her family. “I’m 95 percent better than I was. As soon as I get my nine-year-old straightened out, I want to go back to school to get my CNC license and my med tech license. I want to do medical billing and coding.”
The importance of Sarah’s Refuge, said Thompson, reaches farther than merely providing shelter. “It’s very important for the people that need it. Domestic abuse is a real problem everywhere; it’s just that people don’t see it all the time as abuse. It just depends on their situation. With the pamphlets that they gave me, I recognized some of the stuff I was going through previously, that I didn’t really know was abuse. It just starts to seem normal.”
According to Williams, the region’s isolated setting contributes to the climate of abuse. “In the more rural areas the poverty levels are greater; you see a lot of abuse going on.”
The recent influx of Hispanics to Duplin County has been another complicating factor, said Williams. “We don’t have an interpreter, so I have to use what broken Spanish I know to try and communicate. Also, if they’re here illegally, they may not go to the police because they’re scared of being deported.”
While increased donations would allow Manley to make many of the changes she would like to see at Sarah’s Refuge, such as hiring an interpreter, she said other forms of help would also be welcome.
“Right now we need some men to come in and fix some doors and put some windows in; carpentry work,” said Manley. “We also need someone to help with painting.”
Despite the hardships involved in trying to provide for both the shelter and their clients with the limited funds available, both Manley and Williams said their jobs provide returns that go beyond the material.
“I help people and I’m able to see what I do and how it changes things,” said Williams. “Just knowing I made a difference, that’s what makes you come to work every day.”
Manley said the most satisfying part of her job is seeing a client “come in and then go out to their own home, in their own place, and then continue to strive and walk in the right path and make the right choices.”
Fighting back tears, Manley spoke of a recent letter she received from a mother thanking the staff for helping find a home for her and her daughter. “I know we’re not supposed to, but it’s hard not to get attached,” said Manley. “It’s just gratifying to see people’s lives change.
The 24-hour, toll free crisis hotline is 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 910-293-3206.