It’s not exactly the Miracle on 34th Street, but it certainly is story that needs to be told this time of year. It’s a story played out in far too many homes and the innocent victims are often times children who should be excited about spending time with their family.
Children who have been displaced during the Christmas holiday due to domestic violence in their homes, will enjoy a peaceful event this year. The staff at the Durant Crisis Center has shifted into high gear to make this Christmas one the children will always remember.
For many of these children who have lived their young lives in an abusive environment, this may be the first time they actually learn the true meaning of Christmas. With help from the staff, they have all written letters to Santa and decorated a tree themselves. They will also put out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Santa came to the shelter earlier to make sure the children knew he would be making his rounds and was aware they were in a new home. Tomorrow night his sleigh equipped with the latest version of GPS will show up on the rooftop of the shelter although it is in a secret location for the protection of the victims
“If it wasn’t for our great community these kiddos wouldn’t have a normal Christmas,” said Anna Marcy, an advocate at the center. “It is donations from everyone that makes it so wonderful. We couldn’t make it without them.”
The shelter first opened here in 1985 because there was a need to provide a safe place for women and children living in an abusive situation and had no place to go. Former Assistant District Attorney Theresa McGehee and Norita Walker, executive director at the center, were able to get community support and the first shelter was opened. Operating on a shoestring budget, Walker worked as an unpaid volunteer until it received government funding. The program has continued to serve the community for the past 27 years and three years ago moved into a new building at a secret location.
There are now eight employees who provide a range of activities to help victims through not only a recent violent confrontation, but how to avoid the cycle. Since it is considered an emergency shelter, the stay for victims is limited to 30 days, but that can be extended depending on the circumstances. While they are there various staff help them with finding employment, getting social services, assisting with legal matters and provide security by maintaining 24 hour staffing at the shelter.
It isn’t clear if the number of abuse cases has risen recently or if the outreach they are doing now is finding the problem before it becomes violent. There are 29 certified domestic violence centers in the state and more victims are realizing they don’t have to live in that environment. Marcy is the non-residential advocate who works with victims when a potential problem occurs. As state and federal funding is cut back each year the shelter will have to depend more on local support. They are a United Way agency but to maintain the level of support additional help will be required.
Domestic abuse is no longer a hidden plague upon women who in the past were forced, along with their children to live in fear with no safe haven or support system in place. While there are still those at risk, the ones who have found shelter and protection will be able to have a peaceful holiday thanks to the community support and staff at the Durant Crisis Center.