- Domestic Violence Awareness Month
The records are a bit sketchy, but the message is consistent through the years. The Battered Women's Shelter today owes its roots, its direction and the excellence of its services to the founding mothers. I recently spent time reading the handwritten minutes from the Board of Directors meetings of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The dedication, passion and empathy of these early volunteers became the heart of this agency that still exists today.
Back in 1976 while I was completing my senior year at Copley High School, a group of women had begun to gather, discussing a community need and a desire to help. At that time, domestic violence, family violence or domestic dispute were not terms commonly used by human service professionals, law enforcement or the average lay individual. The founding mothers who gathered talked about "Court Watch Programs" and "Sheltering Victims in the homes of willing volunteers". They had a vision for a shelter specifically responding to the needs of women and children fleeing domestic violence, but they did not have the finances to underwrite such an endeavor. With obstacles before them, the group persevered and became known as the Akron Task Force on Battered Women.
Surprisingly, as I read those early Board Minutes I came across many names of community professionals and agencies that were aiding those founding mothers as they journeyed together in the early years. People such as Judge Judy Nicely from Domestic Relations Court and Jerry Egan from the City of Akron Planning Department were among the earliest professionals who became involved and are still committed to the mission today. Additionally, there were community organizations such as Victims Assistance and Family Services of Summit County (now called Greenleaf Family Services) who provided social service support and professional guidance to the earliest volunteers.
Similar to today, the earliest Board of Directors established the following subcommittees: Finance, Public Relations, Legal, Community Agencies Liaison and Volunteer. Their tasks were similar to those of the 2008 Board of Directors, identifying and filling gaps in services for victims of Domestic Violence. The 2009-2010 Board of Directors is seeking to polish the current services, fill in any domestic violence service gaps in the community and maintain the stable financial foundation that has followed the agency throughout the years. Our objectives today are being fulfilled by the diligent work of 55 staff members and approximately 60 volunteers. Today's staff have much in common with the staff of early days, however, those dedicated individuals did the same work as we do today without paid staff. On September 12, 1978 the Board of Directors called a special Executive Meeting which ensued with a "heated" discussion about the "need" for a paid agency Director. Other discussions and decisions in those early days included the pros and cons of opening a shelter, the need for the address to be anonymous and confidential, the importance of operating a 24-hour hotline and the critical role played by trained volunteers. In symmetry, the 1999-2000 Boards of Directors voted to establish a toll-free crisis hotline for Summit and Medina County residents unable to utilize the local hotline without incurring a cost. Additionally the 2000-2001 Board of Directors oversaw the establishment of a protective shelter in Medina County, thus ensuring that women and their children would not have to leave the County as they escaped violence in their homes.
Many issues have been discussed at the Board Meetings over the past 33 years, but the theme of "family peace" has remained constant. The Akron Task Force on Battered Women, now known as the Battered Women's Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties is once again considering a possible name change. The name no longer reflects the gamut of community-based services, prevention programs and transitional living options. No longer is the Board of Directors all women and no longer do we only respond to the needs of female victims. As the only agency in either county specifically focusing its programs and services on domestic violence issues, it has become imperative that we open our doors to all victims of family violence regardless of their sex and any other individual characteristic.
Unfortunately domestic violence has not gone away in the past 33 years. But fortunately, through many years of support by hundreds of staff, Board Members, community agencies and generous donors we have remained a stable, professionally operated agency responding to the needs of family violence victims. Thousands of victims have become survivors with the support, education and empathy provided through this organization. Little did the "founding mothers" know in 1976 and 1977 that their dreams would become reality and that their goals would help so many individuals and families as they journey towards a life of peace.
The Battered Women's Shelter belongs to this community. Therefore, we should all take pride in the accomplishments achieved as the agency has grown. The services and programs provided are a reflection of the good that can come when a small group of people gather together with an identified need and a conscience that believes in the betterment for all. We hope that the "founding mothers" are proud that we continue working everyday to ensure that this remains our focus.