It can be difficult to find a safe way out of an abusive domestic situation, so it helps to have a compass.
That’s the idea behind Compass Center for Women and Families, an agency created in 2012 through the merger of two longtime community nonprofits, The Women’s Center and the Family Violence Prevention Center of Chapel Hill.
For victims in violent relationships, including those trying to leave their abusers, Compass Center is a go-to resource for finding just about any type of assistance they need, from legal advice and housing options to career coaching, financial counseling and other services.
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“Having all services under one umbrella is really a big plus,” said executive director Cordelia Heaney. “If someone needs to talk with a therapist or wants information about homeless shelters in our area, or has questions about Medicaid, we can refer them.”
The agency operates a 24-hour domestic violence hotline staffed with trained counselors to help victims create safety plans for themselves and their children and consider what steps to take toward leaving a violent partner.
Translators are available for speakers of Spanish and other languages, including Burmese and Korean.
“People can call any day of the year, any time,” Heaney said. “We also have other agencies who will refer people to us.”
One client said she was taken directly to Compass Center by Chapel Hill police after she filed charges against her then-partner for assaulting her.
“The people at Compass Center are fantastic,” said Ellen, who asked not to be identified by her full name for safety reasons.
“They have provided a lot of benefits for me. They came to court with me, helped me get into a shelter. And their response was quick — when I really needed it.”
Victims of domestic violence also suffer financial abuse. In fact, that’s the No. 1 reason why victims aren’t able to leave violent relationships.
Cordelia Heaney, executive director of the Compass Center for Women and Families
Although Ellen now lives in her own apartment and has a job, she is still in touch with the Compass Center staff. “I know if I need anything, I can always call,” she said.
Once an immediate domestic violence crisis has been resolved, the center works to equip clients with skills they need to be independent, such as employment assistance, legal consultations and help with personal finance issues.
“Victims of domestic violence also suffer financial abuse,” Heaney said. “In fact, that’s the No. 1 reason why victims aren’t able to leave violent relationships.”
The center also offers support groups for people in undergoing divorce, whether or not there has been violence in the relationship.
Other services provided by center staff include Teens Climb High, a program providing health education, including safer sex information, to middle school classes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
Another program offered through Compass is Start Strong, which includes two-day workshops for high school students on teen dating and healthy relationships.
The center serves about 5,000 clients per year, about 1,300 of whom have been involved in domestic violence, Heaney said.
She added that all domestic violence-related services are free, while employment and personal finance workshops, along with other self-sufficiency programs, are offered for a sliding-scale fee based on income. The center has an estimated annual budget of $790,000, including salaries for 11 full-time and three part-time employees.
Increased funding from donations would be used to provide more domestic violence and sufficiency services to women and teens, Heaney said.
“In the four years since the two agencies merged, the number of domestic violence clients we serve has doubled,” she said. “I don’t think it means a crime surge, but as a community we are doing a better job of education and outreach, so people are more open to asking for information on services.
“We’d love to add a staff member so we can help more people.”
Compass Center for Women and Families
210 Henderson St.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Contact: Vicki Parker, 919-968-4610
Description: The Center helps individuals and families prevent and end domestic violence and become self-sufficient and navigate their journey to self-sufficiency, safety and health. We provide domestic violence crisis services, career and financial education, assistance with legal resources and adolescent empowerment programs and – working with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools offer programs related to safe relationships in middle school health classes.
Donations needed: Money; toiletries, gift cards and gas cards for domestic violence victims. Give through the State Employees Combined Campaign (our number is 1475-057), will or trust, or annual fundraising events .
Volunteers needed: Domestic violence hotline advocates; information and referral volunteers; domestic violence court advocates; Spanish interpreter/translator.
$10 would buy: Bus transportation to court or group session for a domestic violence victim.
$20 would buy: Eight support group sessions for a survivor of domestic violence or an individual coping with separation and divorce.
$50 would buy: Financial counseling, including lessons on budget and debt management, for an individual.