Shelter’s purpose is to ’empower’

Amelia Moore The Daily Illini Amelia Moore

Amelia Moore The Daily Illini Amelia Moore

By Rick Wiltfong

In the past month, A Woman’s Place, 1304 E. Main St., Urbana, opened their new toll-free hotline for victims of domestic violence and opened a new building.

The number, 1-877-384-4390, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. People can call to share their story, get advice, get information on the company’s service, or get help locating resources in another community, said Heather Fox, program director.

In addition to the hotline, the organization offers legal help and counseling.

The staff and volunteers work closely with victims to help them decide what is best for them by giving suggestions or helping them make a plan of action.

“Our whole purpose is to empower them to make choices,” Fox said.

The organization offers the resources to help them with their decisions and let victims know that if the decision was the wrong one they are always there for them.

“We assist them in making healthy choices and acknowledge that they can live a life free of violence,” said Ellen Schweitzer, outreach and volunteer coordinator.

A Woman’s Place also works hard to educate the public on the definition of domestic violence.

“A lot of people have a narrow definition of domestic violence,” Schweitzer said.

There are also opportunities for people to get involved with the organization thru volunteering. Volunteers can work directly with the women and children at the shelter or coordinate donations, special events or help with upkeep of the building.

For those people interested in working with the women and children a 40 hour domestic violence training course is required. The training course is the only regimented part of volunteering at the organization.

“There are always 100 things to do – our volunteers don’t ever get bored,” Fox said.

A Woman’s Place tailors to their volunteers’ interests.

“If an artist calls wanting to paint a mural in one of the rooms, we couldn’t be more excited,” Schweitzer said.

Both said they encourage men to volunteer too.

“Yes, we are a feminist agency, but we are in no way discouraging men from helping out,” Schweitzer said.

They like to have male volunteers come out, especially to work with the boys staying at the shelter. It is good to have a positive male influence in the children’s lives because they usually don’t have that.

The organization is looking to increase internships in the next years as well as tailor them to the specific needs of students whether it involves research, marketing or social work.

“Every intern who has walked through the door has brought something valuable,” Fox said.

In October A Woman’s Place will be celebrating its 35th anniversary making it the longest running domestic violence shelter in the country, Fox said. Throughout the month, which is also national domestic violence awareness month, activities including a dinner theatre, community contests, conference, candlelight vigil and discussions with Linda Scott author of Fresh Lipstick will take place.