Johnston County

Harbor dedicates shelter

Staff, board members and partners cut the ribbon on the new State Employees’ Credit Union Harbor House, a $1.6 million shelter in Smithfield for victims of sexual assaault and domestic violence.
Staff, board members and partners cut the ribbon on the new State Employees’ Credit Union Harbor House, a $1.6 million shelter in Smithfield for victims of sexual assaault and domestic violence. abennett@newsobserver.com

Harbor Inc., which provides shelter and other aid to victims of rape and domestic violence, started in Johnston County with a small house, $500 and a donated phone line.

Still, it was safe.

The shelter welcomed women and children who didn’t know each other but had one thing in common: All were victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

But while they found safe haven at Harbor, abused women and their children found themselves living on top of one another in the small house That changed recently when Harbor, a nonprofit, cut the ribbon on its new shelter, the SECU Harbor House, on Skyland Drive in Smithfield.

Last year, Harbor served 3,200 women and children. Of those, 209 lived at the shelter, some for a month or more.

Going forward, the shelter will be able to welcome more women and children. The new $1.6 million shelter takes Harbor from 14 to 28 beds. Funding came from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, the State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation and private donors.

Harbor director Kay Johnson hasn’t been on the job long – a little more than a month – but she’s no stranger to Johnston County and nonprofits. The Johnston County native and Smithfield-Selma High School graduate worked with at-risk youth and other groups before coming to Harbor.

At Harbor, she plans to lead the organization to its next steps.

“I look forward to serving the community – the women and the children and the men who need our assistance,” Johnson said. “I have great expectations for Harbor of Johnston County. Yes, there will be challenges. But we will meet those challenges head on. I’m not afraid of the challenges.”

Harbor has 19 employees whose mission is to help victims become empowered, more educated about abuse and more independent. Specifically, Harbor helps victims come up with a plan, providing them with or connecting them to housing, job placement and skill building.

“These women use these resources to work toward their goals,” Johnson said. “We don’t want them to leave the facility without establishing a plan, because they could be more likely to return to the offender or become a victim again.”

“If we can get them sustainable and connected and empowered, they’re less likely to go back and more likely to move forward,” Johnson said. “We want them to see the potential they have and know that they are valuable and that they have a purpose. Being a victim of abuse doesn’t have to define them.”

The new shelter aims to help Harbor with its mission. The building has offices, meeting rooms, therapy rooms, living spaces and other features. The Johnston County Arts Council even painted beach murals in play areas for children.

Johnson said the new shelter would not have been possible without SECU and the state housing agency. But most important, she said, it was the community that stepped up for Harbor.

“Without the community and our private donors pledging to the capital campaign, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I just want to stress how grateful we are that the community rallied together for us.”

“I wish Harbor didn’t have to exist,” said Suefan Wellons Johnson, chairwoman of the Harbor board said. “But unfortunately, it does. ... So thank you for helping us and for helping victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.”

For more information on Harbor, go to www.harborshelter.org.

Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett

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