Safe House for Domestic Violence Victims Reopens
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
A secret sanctuary reopened Wednesday - exactly one year to the day from a 2011 Washington's Birthday fire that destroyed it.
Serenity House, a safe house for victims of domestic violence, was an old farmhouse where Friend to Friend protected them. Women and children took refuge there - sometimes for a night or two, sometimes for months.
After it burned, its parent, the nonprofit agency Friend to Friend, was forced to find temporary shelter for its clients in other places, sometimes other counties. Now, a new Serenity House stands as if risen from the ashes of the old.
"It is a cottage-style home with bedrooms set up for six," said Anne Friesen, executive director of Friend to Friend. "A mom and all her children can stay in one room and have privacy. Women and children can stay one night or up to three months."
Some need only a single night's refuge. Others need time to find a safe home to move into, a job, a new school for their children.
"We are an emergency shelter," Friesen said. "Three months is how long emergency shelters can help the women. Some need only a few nights to get things organized; others need to completely rebuild their lives."
For many, Serenity House is more than shelter. It is home base for moving to a new, safer life.
"We are partnered with Sandhills Community College - we help them if they need help going back to school, need help to get substance abuse help," Friesen said. "We have free counseling 24 hours a day here. So while they are staying here, both the children and adults can get counseling."
One trained counselor is on staff, but there are also licensed therapists who come on a volunteer basis to help with group counseling.
Serenity House is a far different place from what the word "shelter" might imply. Its front room is a spacious, comfortable place with big, comfortable couches, a big-screen TV, tables and reading lamps.
A long table and chairs in the dining area are used not only for meals, but also for meetings and group counseling. A fully equipped kitchen, bright and cheery, is set off to one side. Hallways branch off in two directions with apartments. Bunks and even cribs are waiting, all with fresh sheets. At the intersection, just off the kitchen and dining area, is a children's playroom.
The first occupants were expected this week. Photographs could be taken only before that time, and no pictures of the exterior will ever be permitted. That wouldn't be safe. Its location, out in the Moore County countryside, is - and will remain - unrevealed. Those who come to Serenity House are often in fear for their lives when they arrive.
"A lot who live in this community are so isolated in their lives that they don't realize we have the problem," Friesen said. "The phone is constantly ringing from folks who are homeless from domestic violence - or other things. We really have a need here."
In one way, the disastrous fire was a blessing.
"We are happy that we have been able to double the capacity and serve 34 women and children rather than 18," Friesen said. "That's really exciting. We have space for more, but we actually have beds for that many. We treat the clients as guests; it's like coming into our home, staying with us. All the staff here are here for the mission: here to help the women."
Taking refuge in Serenity House is a vacation from fear, a vacation from care, a time to heal.
"They don't have to be afraid - don't have to pay bills," Friesen said. "We have all sorts of supportive services to help them get healthy in every way. Here they don't have to worry; they can get a good night's sleep. Safety is not an issue. You have somebody here 24 hours a day. The door is open for counseling. It is an opportunity to begin again in a safe, nonjudgmental, confidential environment. Nobody knows you are here."
Taking refuge in Serenity House means time to get clear, time to think about where one really wants to go in life. Victims of domestic violence on the average try to get away six or seven times before they finally make it to safe shelter, according to Friesen. Life in this homelike space is far different from the chaotic, fight-or-flight, continual crisis life they leave behind.
"You can just settle in and think about where you want to be a year from now," Friesen said. "We are also a sexual abuse agency, so women and children who have had sexual assaults can come here as well. When there is a rape, we go to the hospital in the middle of the night and help them.
"It is so nice to be here, because you don't have to make an appointment to get counseling. Many who come here are depressed. When here, they are getting a good night's sleep, gaining confidence. Getting away from it, away from that stress mode, being able to share stories or listen quietly to others - that gives them hope. We want this to be a healing environment."
Serenity House is well-protected. Motion detectors guard the road in, and other detectors and alarms are in place. The outside is defended so those inside can feel safe.
Friend to Friend's "hot line" for emergencies, (910) 947-3333, is monitored around the clock. Its new shop, Butterfly Boutique, at 125 South Bennett St., in downtown Southern Pines, is also a safe point of approach for domestic violence and sexual assault victims seeking emergency shelter.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
More like this story