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Family Support Council on right track

by Sharon Carter

With the Family Support Council services expanding into Indian Hills in the North County today and $133,100 raised to build a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Douglas County, Director Karen Edwards says the private, non-profit organization is right on track.

“A lot of times, victims are isolated,” Edwards said Monday. “Being in Indian Hills will make us more accessible to people in that end of the county.”

Edwards said the Family Support Council will begin using the Indian Hills sheriff’s substation on North Sunridge Drive today from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Those will be the regular hours for the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The hours will be a little later, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

“We’ll develop an Indian Hills women’s support group which will meet at noon,” she said. “And understand, we’re not limited to domestic violence issues – we have information about parenting, wellness and stress management, dealing with teen-agers and support groups for parents and teens, as well as women. We’re a family resource center.”

n Shelter funding grows. Edwards has been making presentations to area service groups and churches for the past nine months. She is also currently preparing grant applications to private foundations and hopes to raise $150,000 for the shelter by July 1.

To get the shelter up and running, she estimates the group will need to raise $300,000.

“This has always been a caring, generous community,” Edwards said. “Like the (Douglas County) residents who saw a need and started the Family Support Council in 1982, community members see the needs now and are very supportive.”

n More than a call a day. In the 1998 calendar year, Douglas County sheriff’s officers went out on 779 domestic violence calls – an average of 65 per month, Edwards said.

“The officers give all the victims our card, but last year only about half of them called us,” she said. “Our numbers were down slightly from the year before, but there is still a tremendous need.”

And while the number of male victims of domestic violence is increasing, she said, most are still women.

Edwards, who has been the organization’s director since 1992, said she believes more victims would call if there was a shelter in the area. Currently, victims who need to be removed from unsafe situations and fear endangering area friends or relatives must be sheltered at facilities in Carson City or South Lake Tahoe.

“A lot of victims don’t want to leave their support systems, many have kids in school or there are transportation difficulties,” Edwards said. “Victims, on a whole, would rather have the shelter in their own community. It makes for less stress and turmoil in situations which are already hard enough as it is.”

n Start small. Edwards said the Douglas shelter will start small – with a facility that will be able to temporarily house four to six families, depending on the number of children, at any given time.

“We haven’t decided whether we’ll build or buy an existing home and add on,” she said. “Every area is unique and we’ll need to learn as we go, to do what will work here.

“What we do know is this is an expensive program, likely to cost between $100,000 to $140,000 per year to operate and feed and clothe the victims. We’re working on things now so we won’t be overwhelmed when we have the finances together.”

The shelter’s location will be kept confidential to protect victims, she said.

n How FSC helps victims. The Family Support Council, which is staffed by 12 paid employees and 26 volunteers, operates a 24-hour crisis line which is staffed by trained volunteers.

“During a typical call, the crisis line operator determines if the victim is in imminent (physical) danger. If she is, we get her address and call sheriff’s officers to make sure she is safe and remove the batterer from the situation,” Edwards said.

“When a victim comes in, the staff helps her understand what her options are. Our goal is to make sure she knows her rights and can make educated decisions. If she wants, we can help her fill out restraining order forms and accompany her, as an advocate, to court.”

Edwards said the Gardnerville office has an extensive lending library where people can check out information – books, tapes and videos – on a variety of subjects. The items can also be read, listened to or viewed at the office if people don’t want to take them home.

n Free and confidential. The Family Support Council provides its services free of charge. And financial need is not a consideration.

“No one is ever asked to fill out a financial statement, pay for services or make a donation,” Edwards said. “Of course, if someone asks later, all donations are gratefully accepted.”

Free child care is provided at evening meetings. And, Edwards said, client information is kept strictly confidential.

“Privacy is respected, it’s one of the most important things,” she said.

n Services throughout county. Family Support Council services are available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Gardnerville office on Waterloo Lane across from Lampe Park; at the Topaz sheriff’s substation from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays; at the Indian Hills sheriff’s substation from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month; and at the Stateline sheriff’s substation (in the juvenile probation office) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays.

Edwards said national statistics show victims will leave domestic partners who batter them an average of eight times before they finally leave for good.

“Sometimes a victim leaves the first time it happens. But more often, they have to reach rock bottom,” she said. “Our goal is to keep families together if we can, but they must be functional. We don’t want people to be victims in their own homes.”