Domestic violence shelter passes grade after year

Lisa Lee, executive director of Advocates to End Domestic Violence, has a creative bent which shows its face throughout the local shelters.

A stenciled, blue heart with the word "welcome" graces most of the shelter doors and many rooms have stenciled boarders along the ceilings.

For a place many women call home for a while, the welcome sign is a breath of fresh air.

"When you're staying in a place for up to five months, you want something that feels like a home," Lee said.

Around 200 women came through the advocate's Carson shelter last year, all looking for a place to gather their thoughts while they decided what to do next. They are old and young, come alone or with children in tow but come seeking help from a situation that's often hard to leave, Lee said.

The National Women Abuse Prevention Project reported between 3 million and 4 million women in the United States are battered each year by their husbands or partners. More than a million women seek medical assistance for injuries caused by battering. While some victims of domestic violence are men, 95 percent of the victim are women.

"I've never met anyone who's school yearbook said most likely to end up in a shelter," Lee said. "They think they'll get married and have a house with a white picket fence. That's not always the case.

"There needs to be an awareness that you don't need to stay. There's an option. Our goal is to try and effect some change to try and help women from staying in an abusive relationship. We're here to help women regain their independence."

Carson's advocate group began in the early 1980's with a crisis line that eventually expanded into an apartment where women could stay. Over the years, the advocates have bloomed from a volunteer-run operation to one with 24 employees and hundreds of volunteers. From a crisis line came an extended-stay shelter, parenting and sexual abuse programs, counseling and legal services and a thrift store.

The advocate's extended-stay program is perhaps one of the hallmarks of what makes Carson's group special.

Women are allowed to stay in the shelter for up to five months in communal-styled living. Women share living rooms and kitchens, but have their own bedrooms. The shelter is composed of several houses and the advocate's are fixing some old houses and expanding from 37 to 51 beds.

"I don't think we really need 51 beds," Lee said. "But the outlying counties don't have a shelter. We were faced with the reality of reducing the time women could stay, but how do you tell someone, 'I'm sorry, you called at the wrong time.' I don't want to be the one that says you can't come because we don't have room."

Lee said many other shelters only allow women to stay from 30 days to six weeks.

"Just giving someone a place to stay for six weeks is a Band-Aid," Lee said. "We don't want to be a Band-Aid. The ones that have gone back after six weeks return to an abusive relationship."

To help women advocate's offers counseling and parenting programs. Their office has toys, books and room for kids to play, while the counseling rooms offer the same creative and homey touches of the shelters.

One woman staying at the shelter left an abusive relationship of 12 years with her three children. She came from Reno to Carson where she is working with Job Opportunities in Northern Nevada gaining secretarial skills while she looks to the future.

"Leaving family and friends was a big step, but it was the best step for us." she said. "I'm getting counseling, something I've never had before and it's helped me dramatically. It makes it easier to find myself. I forgot how to feel, how to think for myself. I was always waiting for someone to tell me what to do. There were incidents I thought had never happened to anyone else, and when I found out they'd happened to other people, it helped me feel that I wasn't alone."

Advocates recently headed to schools to teach kids about domestic violence and sexual assault through a program called Sexual Assault Response Advocate. An anger management program called Next Step is aimed at helping batterers stop violence. All proceeds from thrift store Classy Seconds, 411 Hot Springs Road, benefit advocate programs, but women in the program get first pick from donated articles.

Lee and her staff works long hours to make sure the programs advocates offer work.

"Sometimes I get stressed thinking I can't find enough money or why do they need heat in the houses," Lee said. "I'll be in Wal-Mart and someone who was in the shelter five years ago will come up to me and thank us for helping her. That makes it worth it."


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