The closing of the Chatham’s Family Violence Rape Crisis Center in October marked the end of an era after a turbulent few years for the agency. What had started as a grassroots effort decades …
The closing of the Chatham’s Family Violence Rape Crisis Center in October marked the end of an era after a turbulent few years for the agency.
What had started as a grassroots effort decades ago to support domestic violence services in Chatham County grew into an agency that was revered in the state and the nation as an example of the pinnacle of domestic violence services, winning numerous national awards and accolades.
But following the retirement of its long-standing director Jo Sanders in 2013, the organization began to founder amid instability, funding losses and significant turnover of executive directors – including seven in three years – and board members.
Chatham County commissioners ceased funding the organization early in 2017 over concerns about financial accountability and leadership. By July of last year, Executive Director Cindy Carter resigned as an audit was being conducted by the N.C. Auditor’s office.
The state’s audit didn’t result in a report, despite a request from the county.
“The county cut off funding,” N.C. Auditor Beth Wood told the News + Record in September. “Everything has been done that needed to be done to protect taxpayer dollars. There was no reason to spend a lot of time putting out a report. We’re not going to spend resources for a report that everybody already has the information,” Wood said, alluding to the performance evaluation conducted by the county in 2017.
At the same time, other entities made efforts to try to provide services for domestic violence victims. The county appropriated significant funding for positions in the police department and school system for domestic violence victims. But because of confidentiality concerns, county staff taking over the sole responsibility for serving victims complicated the picture.
In July, meanwhile, a group of concerned citizens began meeting about the potential to salvage the agency, seeking the best way to ensure domestic violence services are being provided to Chatham County residents.
Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry, a former FVRC board member and volunteer, is a member of that committee. Perry notes that her involvement in the new group is not in an official capacity for the town.
The hope of the group, based on their discussions with the FVRC board at the time, was to transfer over the agency to the new group, which calls itself Second Bloom Inc., which would begin the process of rebuilding the agency.
But that transition didn’t happen.
“The whole reason we formed is because people began to fear that the organization was going to fail,” Sanders, FVRC’s former executive director, said. “People went to Cindy [Perry] because they knew she would care and respond.
“We formed the 501(c)3 in order to be ready in the event FVRC closed,” she said. “The goal was to be ready to preserve and secure any assets for the benefit of domestic violence victims.”
The group is starting from scratch financially, according to Sam Cooper, a member of the group and former Chatham County Clerk of Court. And because they’re in an organizational stage, the group is working to formalize their efforts and hoping to hold a community meeting early in 2019 to receive input and garner support.
One of those first goals is to create a telephone help-line for domestic violence victims.
“Many victims are reluctant to take the legal route,” Sanders said. “They want to know the landscape. A lot [of them] are seeking information about how the system works.”
For now the group is “crawling before it can walk and walking before it can run,” according to Cooper.
“The community stepped forward 34 years ago to organize this—to organize for the common good,” Sanders said. “I think they’ll do so again.”
After FVRC closed, the group was approached with an idea for a pop-up shop similar to the Second Bloom store in downtown Pittsboro though not associated with the former store.
“It’s a one-off effort—a mobilizing effort—to promote Second Bloom Inc,” Cooper said. “It’s a way to highlight this group’s efforts.”
The pop-up shop opened last weekend at Pittsboro’s First Sunday. The group is using the building that used to house the Koonce Wooten & Haywood accounting office.
The group collected donations of clothing, Christmas items, and household goods to be sold.
“If we are able to sustain our effort, we will be able to start meeting unmet needs,” Sanders said.
“Our first goal is to raise awareness that a new organization is gearing up to eventually provide services and education about domestic violence and sexual assault,” Perry said. “The county generously came to fund certain services through the Sheriff’s Department and Kit Stanley’s (former FVRC staff member) agency, but that was temporary, pending the re-organization of a non-profit to return to counseling and education.”