Tiny purple flowers reach up from the still-patchy grass outside Harbor’s shelter in Smithfield, a sign of spring for sure but also a sign that life goes on.
Harbor’s mission is to see that life goes on, that the rape and abuse victims who seek its help can begin to pick up the pieces and build something better. It’s a lesson the nonprofit learned itself last fall, when the rains of Hurricane Matthew flooded the Neuse River and spilled 10 inches of water into Harbor’s 4-month-old shelter.
Finally, after months of work and $60,000 worth of repairs, Harbor executive director Kay Johnson says the organization is ready to move back in. This week, she said, Harbor’s staff will take up offices once again and should begin accepting women and children in need of a safe place by May.
Johnson said Harbor was in need of its own safe place last October. “A tragedy occurred on Oct. 8,” she said. “We had to evacuate over 14 residents with two staff, a minivan and a Malibu from our new facility. Since that time, we have been able to work from our old facility.”
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Johnson said the bottom drywall on all of the shelter’s walls needed to be replaced and the floors cleaned and treated to make sure no mold would grow inside the building. The walls have been painted and the floors have been buffed, and no must hangs in the air. It smells like a fresh start.
Johnson said a number of groups had helped raise money and do the work to get Harbor back on its feet. “The community has been excellent,” she said. “They have really rallied around us to see that the needs of the community continue to be met.”
Over the last couple of months, Johnson has been attending town meetings across Johnston County to explain that need. She’s still fairly new on the job, and so far her tenure has been marked by growth and struggle, as Harbor opened its new shelter last June, doubling its capacity from 14 to 28, only to have a flood set the nonprofit back.
“Harbor has been in existence for over 30 years; I’ve been there 11 months,” Johnson told the Clayton Town Council earlier this month.
That the shelter Harbor will reopen next month is perhaps the strongest symbol of the organization’s work, but Johnson said it isn’t the most important thing the group does.
“It’s a component of what we do, but I can’t say it’s the most important,” she said, pointing to courtroom advocacy and counseling the organization does to help its clients learn to protect themselves and to identify healthy relationships. “We try to give them all the tools they need.”
Last year, Harbor helped obtain 875 protective orders, Johnson said. And in explaining the extent of what the organization faces in Johnston County, Johnson said the county ranks second in the state to Wake County in unduplicated victims.
“We are second when it comes to serving sexual assault and domestic violence victims in North Carolina,” Johnson said. “Counties below us include Mecklenburg, Durham and Cumberland County. The needs are great in this county when it comes to family balance.”
Last year, Harbor’s shelter took in 175 women and children, and Johnson expects the increased capacity could push those numbers closer to 300 in a full year.
Johnson said she has so far visited the town boards in Four Oaks, Selma, Micro and Clayton and expects to speak at Smithfield in the near future.
“I can’t say enough about the services you provide and the performance your team puts forward in the community,” Clayton councilman Michael Grannis said.