Response: July/August 2017 Issue

Providing Shelter in Vermont

Vermont District United Methodist Women help support the work of Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter.

Providing Shelter in Vermont
Avaloy Manning at the entrance of Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter where she serves as director.

Rutland is a small, picturesque New England town in Vermont, but in some of its picturesque buildings, as in the rest of the United States and the wider world, many women live in fear for their lives, facing domestic and sexual violence and are in urgent need of a place to stay where they will be safe.

The Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter is that safe haven, offering, in addition to shelter, individual counseling, support groups and education to the wider community in the county with the goal of preventing and decreasing incidences of further abuse. The shelter is supported by the Vermont District United Methodist Women.

Executive Director Avaloy Lanning described the role of the organization in raising awareness of domestic violence. They have a small staff, but also many volunteers who assist them in a variety of ways. There is a 24/7 hotline available to anyone in need. In 2014, beds at the shelter were slept in 2,043 times, with 23 women and 16 children using the facility. There were another 39 requests when beds were not available.

The shelter itself is overseen by the shelter coordinator, then Megan Morse. When we spoke there were seven families and seven children living in the house. These included a single woman and a mother with her three children. Women stay there until their situation is resolved—usually from three to eight months. The shelter coordinator is the onsite go-to person for residents, working with women to meet their current needs and to plan a path going forward, including finding housing and a means of financial support. Sometimes they go back to their families or in some cases decide to leave the state. As Morse explained, “The bulk of what I do is case management on a one-on-one basis, so clients are developing the resources they need to successfully move on.”

The organization runs weekly house meetings as well as separate support groups for women using its services. The house meetings handle issues like the chores that need to be done and ways to develop coping mechanisms. What has worked in the past for some doesn’t work for others.

“Every day is different,” Morse said.

All the staff are on call one evening a week on the 24/7 hotline. Morse described how, the night before, at 11 p.m., she received a call from the emergency room at a local hospital, who reported a case of sexual assault. A young woman needed an advocate. Morse provided support to the family, offering information on the rights and options in the case of a minor and on collecting evidence related to the assault. She told them the center was also open if they needed more support. She was finally able to return home at 2 a.m.

The organization provides case management, with screenings done to evaluate and determine a person’s needs. A client may be seen for as long as two years, and the organization helps refer clients to needed services in the community. The goal is to help women gain control of their lives and help them achieve self-sufficiency and safety. 

In the community

Staff are often invited to schools and colleges to facilitate conversations on domestic violence and sexual assault. There they meet students of all ages, from 10 years old through college, and always go as a team so they can provide any support the conversations warrant.

Jennifer Firpo until recently was the shelter and network’s legal coordinator. She spent many days going back and forth between the shelter, Rutland City Police headquarters and family court. The organization is a source for local law enforcement when dealing with domestic disputes and is present in family court when women need support.

“I deal with people who come to court to get restraining orders. If we realize that a lawyer is needed to represent the client, we can call on the services of a lawyer from Have Justice Will Travel, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to victims of domestic abuse,” said Firpo.

The shelter and network is also present at a weekly lunch of Project Vision, a project founded for residents of Rutland County to come together to confront challenges the region is experiencing, including drug addiction and mental health issues. Concerned citizens began holding community meetings to figure out how to deal with the worsening situation. Project Vision grew out of these meetings, which brought together representatives from virtually every organization dedicated to the welfare of the region. They regularly hold community forums, and representatives of many of the organizations, including Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter, come to the brown bag lunches. They share information and ideas and also learn about other services available to the community. They work on solving problems and increasing community involvement. Members at a recent lunch included representatives from the police department, mental health services, animal control, the Rutland County Parent Child Center and the Rev. Hannah K. Rogers of the Rutland United Methodist Church.

Support and partnership

Rogers is often involved in supporting projects for women and children and has even referred women to the shelter. At other times, she serves as a resource for the shelter.

Recently a young woman’s partner had destroyed her cell phone, and Rogers was able to help.

“I facilitated getting a new phone with the greater objective of facilitating love and grace,” she said. “The work of RCWNS is ministry; whether or not it is religious, religion is involved. We experience the love of Christ through our partnership with them.”

Becky Marcoux, volunteer coordinator, is herself a volunteer who is at the shelter three days a week. Marcoux described her own situation as she sat with her support dog at her side.

“I got sick so couldn’t work a regular job anymore, but this work keeps me in a good spot.” she said. She greets “walk-ins,” who may be people in crisis or volunteers or members of the community who have come to donate vegetables or feminine hygiene supplies. The needs and possibilities for volunteers are many at the shelter, and Marcoux oversees the training of most of them. For the more extensive training like that needed for the hotline, she works with other staff members, and they do the training sessions together.

“I love to be able to put people at ease. They know that there is hope and that they can be safe. We have people come back and thank us,” she said.

Jennifer Yakunovich, development and marketing coordinator, explained how the center raises the funds needed to support their work and develops programs to advance their mission. Seventy-five percent of the budget comes from state and federal grants, and the rest comes from a variety of other sources, like the Vermont District United Methodist Women.

The shelter’s “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event raised awareness of the problem of domestic abuse and violence and earned over $50,000 in the process. Though the fall weather was cold, more than 500 people walked the mile, many in bright red shoes. Rutland community leaders, including the mayor and a policewoman with her dog, participated and helped advertise the event, all wearing red heels.

In addition to United Methodist Women funding and volunteers, the shelter also partners with Operation Handbag and invites donors to drop off new or slightly used handbags and wallets. A group of local college students collected household items and cash. The Rutland City Church donated Christmas stockings, and a local real estate company, together with other local businesses, spearheaded a project to refurbish a suite in the shelter.

The work of the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter is as important than ever. Sadly there is a constant need for the services they provide, just as there is for United Methodist Women to be organized for mission for women in their communities and around the world.

Beryl Goldberg is a photojournalist based in New York City and frequent contributor to response.

Posted or updated: 6/30/2017 12:00:00 AM

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