Mar 112011

Photo by Linda Kor Alice’s Place, An Empowerment Center is where Theresa Warren (left) and Dede Pritchard work tirelessly to assist victims of domestic violence.

By Linda Kor —

It is a terrible reality in our world that domestic violence exists. While this type of violence is usually directed toward women and children, men also fall victim to this type of abuse made all the more difficult to deal with be-cause it’s at the hand of a family member or other loved one.

It was in the year 2000 that a group of individuals came together and created Alice’s Place, An Empowerment Center in Winslow. The founder, Dr. Ken Ogilvie, named the facility after his grandmother, and even today those who devote their time and energy to the facility feel what they believe to be Alice’s warm and tender spirit helping them lead their clients to success.

Today, the center operates under the advisement of a 12-member volunteer board of directors with Dr. Greg Hackler at the helm. Theresa Warren serves as executive director of the center and victim’s advocate, Dede Prit-chard as victim’s advocate, and Bill Lawler as life skills educator and transport driver.

Warren and Pritchard tend the emergency hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes the phone doesn’t ring for days, but when it does, these women go into action.

Last year advocates responded to 350 crisis calls, some asking for information, others asking for immediate assistance in order to be removed from an abusive situation.

According to information provided by Alice’s Place, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, and is the number one reason for emergency room visits by women ages 18 to 35. In Winslow, the most common call for help received by the Winslow Police Department is domestic and family violence.

“Once in awhile we’ll receive calls from the police department after they’ve been called to an altercation, but usually it’s from the victim or the emergency room at the hospital,” explained Warren.

The facility operates under three key operations of rescue, shelter and education. Alice’s Place offers “safe rooms” for victims of abuse needing a safe, undisclosed location to stay until other arrangements can be made. That stay could be overnight or it could be for weeks. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of transportation from one shelter to another as victims from one state try to reach safety in another. When that happens, Bill Lawler steps in, volun-teering as a driver of the center’s van that many times takes him to other states.

As an example of the effectiveness of the center, Warren related an incident where a woman living in another part of the state was referred to Alice’s Place when her own victim’s services agency was unable to assist her in relocating safely after weeks of trying. She was trying to find a safe place from her abusive husband. The woman had suffered under the physical abuse of her spouse for a long time, but when her 11-year-old son intervened dur-ing a particularly brutal assault, his father punched the child in his face. The woman left her husband, but he held a prominent position in their community and had the resources to track her through various agencies and interfere with her efforts.

At Alice’s Place, Warren was able to arrange for the woman and her children to stay at a safe room that night and within three hours had a relay plan for transportation laid out from shelter to shelter that would get her out of the state and into a new life over the course of a few days. According to Warren, the woman was so elated that once she reached her final destination, she told Warren that she had called the White House to commend the workers at Alice’s Place.

“We sometimes call this Alice’s Underground Railroad. We get on the phone and get these people where they need to be without anyone knowing they were here,” she said.

Warren also assists individuals beyond providing a safe space and some warm clothing. She goes to court ap-pointments to offer a steady hand to the emotionally distraught and helps clients sort out what can be a confusing legal system.

“My purpose is to sit and help them be calm, and act as their ears and eyes. It’s easy for a woman sitting two chairs away from her abuser to be distracted and upset. We work out a strategy ahead of time and I position myself between them so she doesn’t have to look at him,” stated Warren.

“Many times our clients have lived in controlling situations and literally don’t know how to move forward in some of the areas we take for granted,” she said.

So how does the facility know that a call is one they should take seriously? The philosophy of Alice’s Place is that if you call, then there’s a good reason.

“The first question we ask is, ‘Are you safe right now?’” explained Warren. “We never take a situation lightly. I’ve seen a 20-year-old beaten beyond recognition and I’ve seen other women hurt in places you can’t see.”

When it comes to advocacy and support, it can be as brief as a few hours or it can be ongoing for years. “It takes an abused person leaving her abuser an average of seven times before she’s able to really leave,” stated War-ren, who admits it’s difficult to watch a client go back to an abuser, but the support never lessens.

While no counseling or support groups are provided through the center, each individual is assessed for his or her needs and directed in a way that gets the needed help. “Our job is to support them in their choices, whether we agree with them or not. We never turn away from someone who has made a choice to return to their abuser, we’re always here for them,” noted Warren.

The education extends beyond the clients who call for help. The life skills classes taught by Lawler at Alice’s Place are not just for victims of abuse, but also for anyone in the surrounding communities looking to increase their own empowerment.

The center also provides information to teenagers on signs and awareness of dating violence, and employers can receive information on how to recognize behavioral changes in employees who may be struggling with domes-tic violence.

As a non-profit organization, Alice’s Place relies on the generosity of donors, small government grants and the income from Alice’s Attic Thrift Shop. The store front serves the dual purpose of not only providing inexpensive, gently used clothing and other items to thrifty shoppers but also a subtle way for someone seeking services to get information.

“We used to have our offices down the road, but we didn’t have the storefront. Dede and I have a mutual friend, and one day called her to have her come by for a visit. She said she’d love to, but if she did, someone was bound to notice her car and think her husband was abusing her, and that she was there for help. It’s a small community and we realized that other women, those in need of our services, may not be coming to us for the same fear of recogni-tion,” explained Warren.

When asked what it was that kept Warren and Pritchard dedicated to their work and the endless hours of serv-ice, Warren answered, “It’s knowing that we’ve made a difference in the direction of their lives. It’s a passion I have to see that all individuals get to a place where they get that empowerment.”

If you are interested in learning more about Alice’s Place, a tour is held at 6 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at Alice’s Attic, located at 312 E. Second St. in Winslow. Those who coordinate the tour emphasize that it is not a fundraiser and no money will be requested. It is an opportunity for people in the community to un-derstand what domestic violence means and see what services Alice’s Place has to offer.

Anyone interested in attending the various life skills classes or in need of services provided by the center may call (928) 289-3003.