Content Warning: This story discusses domestic and sexual violence. Help is available. Call the FRIENDS, Inc. 24-hour hotline at 262-334-7298.
It sounds simple: if you don’t like a situation that you’re in, then you leave it.
Survivors of domestic violence know that it isn’t that simple and FRIENDS, Inc. in Washington County understands this. When individuals call FRIENDS, it’s often because they are leaving, or preparing to leave, an abuser.
They are mothers and fathers removing themselves – and their children – from a harmful environment. Sometimes the abuse comes from their domestic partner, sometimes it’s from a relative, and sometimes it comes from a school locker room. But always, FRIENDS is ready to welcome these individuals and their families. They’ve always been a place to heal.
FRIENDS, Inc. has been in Washington County for over 45 years, starting as a crisis line, and growing into the sole provider of shelter and support services for individuals affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. With a staff of thirteen serving over 1,000 people a year, FRIENDS can provide services to both adults and children that don’t retraumatize their clients. Through their holistic approach, they help their clients to heal and live self-sufficient lives so that no one needs to return to the violence that they came from.
“The number one reason why people don’t leave their abusive relationships is because of financial and housing insecurity,” explained Yvonne MacDonald-Hames, Executive Director of FRIENDS, Inc.
Domestic and sexual violence is strategically rooted in control, so many individuals who are in abusive relationships are unable to provide for themselves or leave. They may not have jobs, or if they do, their checks may be kept from them, and they are unable to have their own bank account. There is also significant emotional trauma. When victims are at last able to make the move away from their abusers, FRIENDS is ready to provide emergency shelter and services, with funding help from United Way.
“When I get that initial call,” said Jasmyne Bass, Sexual Violence Advocate at FRIENDS, Inc. “The first thing I do is ask, ‘What can I do? I’m here for you. I’m here to listen. Let’s get you somewhere safe.’”
“We, quite frankly, couldn’t do the services that we provide without United Way,” Yvonne stated. “United Way helps us with our emergency shelter operations, which is so vital for our victims to leave their abusers.”
The Transitional Living Program at FRIENDS, funded by our Safe & Stable Homes initiative, helps survivors move from emergency shelter to becoming self-sufficient, including resume building, mock interviews, setting up bank accounts, and more that help them reach their goals. For some, staff help with parenting, meal planning, and even cleaning while checking on their clients’ success and progress. Families are the primary focus at FRIENDS, with children receiving equal care and attention as they work through the trauma they may have witnessed or experienced.
When clients are ready to live self-sufficiently, FRIENDS staff feel a sense of pride knowing that they, and the program, have been successful.
“Just know we’re always here,” Jasmyne clarified. “Just because your time in the Transitional Living Program has ended, it doesn’t mean your time with FRIENDS has ended. We’re always here, even if it’s just a phone call and a check-in.”
When you give to United Way, you're not just making a donation. You're changing a life. Organizations like FRIENDS, Inc. remind us that to live better, we must Live United.