Years ago in McDowell County, an abused woman running for her life had few choices: She could get a court order to keep her abuser away, but where would she go? The nearest shelter was in Lewisburg, and if she did not have transportation, she was out of luck. If she went back home—which for many woman was the only option—she faced fear, injury, and possibly even death at the hands of her abuser.
On March 25, 1981, a group of seven people got together and changed the future of McDowell County. They met at the public library, a store house of information, and gathering information was their first goal. The infant group got its identity in May 1981, when Clinton Hurley suggested the name Stop Abusive Family Environment (SAFE). SAFE became a corporation in September 1981.
Finally, in November 1984, SAFE members realized their longtime dream of having a walk-in office with a telephone and volunteers where domestic violence victims could go for help. It was a long road from the days of a mailbox at the public library to an office on the second floor of the First National Bank Building in Welch.
SAFE's services now included helping clients file domestic violence petitions for protection from abuse; attending court hearings for advocacy and support; transporting clients to and from the shelter in Beckley if need; and referring them to a lawyer if legal help was needed.
In 1986, SAFE applied for and received $7,500 in Title XX funds through the Department of Human Services to serve McDowell and Wyoming counties. The money helped pay to transport clients to the shelter in Beckley, and hire a part-time program coordinator. But grass-roots fundraising continued, and SAFE published its first cookbook at the same time.
Title XX and United Way funding increases in 1987 enabled SAFE to hire a Director of Services who concentrated on interviewing clients, helping them file domestic violence petitions, and advocating for them in court hearings.
During that time, SAFE became a member of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. SAFE once again charted new territory by being the first non-shelter domestic violence program to be welcomed into the Coalition. And the partnership opened new doors, as SAFE developed relationships with the other domestic violence shelters in the state and shared in their expertise and resources.
Growing pains hit again in April 1989, when SAFE moved to three rooms on the fourth floor of the Bank Building. SAFE survived and was stronger than ever. The organization at this time receives around 60 domestic violence calls in the average month, a far cry from the five per month average a decade ago. About 832 clients were served by SAFE and West Virginia now has 12 domestic violence shelters, and one program, compared with only six shelters in 1981.
The highlight for the year of 1991 was when SAFE received funding from the Conrad Hilton Foundation to open an outreach office in Wyoming County. Even though SAFE had been attempting to provide assistance in Wyoming County, there was a definite hinderance because of the limited access to the Welch office.
In 1996 Mercer County was added to SAFE's catchments area. To gain the confidence of the agencies, law enforcement, prosecuting attorney, magistrates and victims was a challenge. However, through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) a partnership had to be formed to receive funding. The success of the Mercer County Outreach Office is evident not only from the domestic violence victims who are served each year but also because the Department of Health and Human Resources and Magistrate Courts have made office space available for the SAFE advocates to have a visible presence to serve victims.
After years of grant writing and forming partnerships with various funders, a dream became a reality when in January 1997 SAFE opened the first transitional housing facility to serve domestic violence victims, homeless women and their children in the State of West Virginia. The four story building, a former elementary school, was graciously donated by the McDowell County Board of Education and is now a transitional housing facility that provides an alternative for women and children through supportive services for a period of up to 24 months.
The facility houses 31 units, learning center, commercial kitchen, dinning areas, lounges on each floor, licensed child care and infant care centers, conference room, counseling rooms, thrift store, offices, a full-sized gymnasium and playground areas.
The SAFE Transitional Housing facility is more than a place to live. It is “a place to learn to live and live to learn”. Once people come to SAFE, the struggle for daily survival is won and they can concentrate on addressing the problems that caused them to be homeless or victims of domestic violence.
Soon after opening the transitional housing facility, SAFE moved in a new direction with a new project with help from Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC). SAFE began a new homeownership program where funding from the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, USDA-Rural Development, Federal Home Loan Bank and HAC were used to provide loans to low income families interested in becoming first time homeowners. In the first year two housing loans were completed with one of the houses going to a woman and her children who had resided in the SAFE transitional housing facility for approximately 15 months.
In May 2000, SAFE began the development of 40 townhouses with a community center called Starland Heights. The development of this project was accelerated because of the devastating floods in July 2001 and May 2002. The project was enhanced because SAFE took the lead to form a construction company to build 16 of the 40 units and the 2,000 square footcommunity center with local labor. Theproject was completed in October 2002 and totally rented with Section 8 and Section 515 subsidy in February 2003.
After the completion of the homeownership and rental projects, SAFE saw the need to form another non-profit called SAFE Housing and Economic Development, Inc. (SHED which was incorporated in November 2002.
Currently, you will find SAFE continuing to find new projects. Although branching out in various directions, SAFE will always remain true to its original goal ofbreaking the cycle of violence and empowering individuals and families.