By Sheila G. Kelley, Development Coordinator
Breaking the cycle of domestic violence and sexual assault lights a fire in Kim Ratzlaff and Angela Schepmann, executive director and domestic violence/sexual assault program director respectively, at safehope, a non-profit organization providing advocacy and support to all survivors and secondary victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Part of their mission is social change. Outreach efforts are important for people to understand the cycle of violence and how the trauma affects the survivors and communities.
“A big thing we do is outreach. We try to give as many community awareness and educational events as we can,” Kim said. “Anyone willing to let us talk about our programs, we’re willing to go and tell about our services in hopes to bring more awareness and maybe even connect with more survivors.”
With over 31 years of advocacy and outreach services, safehope has expanded their services in Harvey County to include McPherson and Marion Counties.
“Our services are confidential, voluntary and free,” Kim said. “Those are three key words for the agency and what guides our processes.”
Safehope’s service and response is available 24 hours, seven days a week. Along with a 24-hour help line, they provide crisis intervention; personal, medical, court and law enforcement advocacy and supportive counseling, support groups and parent and child advocacy and mentoring.
“Ultimately in our advocacy, we find out what is important to the person, then we help them with goals and support them through the process of what their goals are and we try to connect them to as many resources as we can,” Angela explained.
Support groups make up an important part of their mission. There are separate support groups for women and men as well as meetings at the homeless shelter. A sexual assault coordinator facilitates a support group at Mirrors and a group in Marion is going into the jail to provide support.
“We also have a parent/child advocate who specifically works with youth. She has outreach hours at the high school and middle school,” Angela said. “We also provide services at Bethel College, Hesston college and Bethany through our sexual assault coordinator.”
“In a fiscal year, we are serving just over 900 participants in Harvey County,” Kim stated. “Granted, that could be a day or two, a few phone calls or it could be three plus months in the shelter.”
Safehope provides a shelter for women and children that operates like a regular home. According to statistics, for the same time period, 51 victims stayed at the facility and just under 30 stayed in a hotel due to not having enough room at the shelter or several years of support.
The agency works with other entities already mentioned. Another group safehope has connections with is Caring Hands Humane Society in Newton.
“They’ve been a great support for accommodating some of the participants pets,” Angela explained. “The Humane Society finds foster families for the animals.”
Pets become part of their family and can sometimes be the deciding factor for someone in leaving the situation, especially if they are scared that their pets might be harmed.
“Since the pandemic, overall there is more lethality,” Kim stated. “Really, we heard it more than we had in the past. They say, ‘I want to leave but I can’t leave my pet.’”
Safehope is highly funded through federal, state and local grants. But there are many things the programs need that those grants will not fund.
“We are very, very good stewards of money and we follow their rules,” Kim said. “But there are many things that funding from Harvey County United Way covers. That’s why UW is so important to us. It’s invaluable. We would be less without it.”
Those needs could be a gas card or a bus ticket. Maybe it’s new tires for the car. Without a vehicle and transportation, she can’t get a job and without a job, she can’t keep her house.
Another asset of safehope is the Resiliency Center which provides free, confidential and voluntary services of individualized care at the center, on the phone and in the community. It was first opened for survivors of the Excel shooting and then it has been expanded for domestic violence/sexual assault victims.
After a traumatic event, adults and children can experience a change in how they view the world and others. Counseling provides a safe place to develop knowledge and skills for healing and change.
Yet another benefit safehope provides is a food and personal care assistance pantry. They are available at all the outreach locations for people who use their services.
Two events are on the horizon for safehope and its participants. The first is the holiday boutique, an idea staff came up with and it’s taken off.
“They are given tickets to go through the boutique and make their purchases,” Kim said. “We’ve heard how positive they feel about having that control with what they get to buy at the boutique.”
The other exciting thing to happen will be the completion of the remodel going on at the Oak Street facility.
“It had been a strategic plan for several years, but we were able to capture federal funds through a grant and are looking forward to being in the remodeled facility,” Kim said.