Family safety group gets a new home

Staff WriterMarch 2, 2009 

— On a slow day, five or six new families seek out Interact's domestic violence services. On a busy day, three times that many show up.

Meeting that demand will be a little easier now that the nonprofit group is moving into new digs double the size of its previous home. It's taking over the former YWCA location on Oberlin Road and doing a major renovation that will overhaul the way domestic violence outreach is provided to the community.

Like many other nonprofit groups struggling in this economy, Interact is concerned about paying off the building. Still, employees are excited about the official opening of the 60,000-square-foot Family Safety and Empowerment Center this month, when Interact will join with other community groups to realize its vision for wrap-around services.

"Twenty years ago, people hid domestic violence," executive director Adam Hartzell said. "We're saying we're here, and we're inviting the community to be part of the solution."

Interact will share the building with nine community partners, including the Raleigh police department, which will base its family violence intervention unit there. Other groups include the YWCA's Women in Transition program and organizations offering legal aid, medical care, and counseling for drug and alcohol abuse.

Last year, Interact helped 36,000 people, about a third of them victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. Interact reached the others through prevention and education programs such as YES -- Youth Education Services -- which sends Interact employees into the schools to teach third- through 12th-graders about sexual abuse. Of 9,600 students involved, about 300 eventually disclosed to Interact that they were being sexually abused at home.

With the economy lurching, Interact still has debts to pay. In 2006, it started its $5 million Campaign for a Safe Place to finance its new home; it has raised $4.2 million so far. But since September, contributions have dropped sharply.

That worries Hartzell, who fears having to use operating funds to pay off the new building.

"It's such a unique opportunity for our community to make a long-term investment in families that we've got to power through," he said.

The campaign has also allowed Interact to expand its shelter -- at an undisclosed location, to protect the residents -- from 18 to 45 beds and to create a more communal living arrangement with cozy hang-out areas. The new beds likely will be snatched up: For every family Interact sheltered in 2006, the group says, another family was turned away.

Interact has taken what was the YWCA's drab building and reconfigured it, splashing soothing shades of green on the walls and carving spaces for children's counseling, a women's thrift shop and examination rooms for an on-site clinic.

The idea for the clinic evolved from a grant Interact received to identify similar programs around the country it wanted to model. Administrators visited 19 sites, including facilities in Birmingham, Atlanta and Boston, and were impressed with the idea of opening a clinic. Wake Health Services, which serves uninsured and underinsured patients, will provide the medical care.

With medical care, counseling and child care all in one place, clients don't have to run all over town getting services they need.

"If you're in a state of crisis, to have to go from place to place is hard," said Damita Chambers, a spokeswoman for Interact. "We bought this building with the vision that it would end the cycle of violence in the clients we serve."

bonnie.rochman@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4871

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