Local Women's Shelter Wins State Award
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
A local safe house for victims of domestic violence has won a statewide award.
Friend to Friend's "Serenity House" is one of five places honored recently in this year's Housing North Carolina Awards, sponsored by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency. These annual awards recognize outstanding affordable housing that can serve as models for other communities.
Serenity House is Friend to Friend's place of refuge where the nonprofit gives domestic violence victims emergency shelter while it helps them begin to build safer and self-sufficient lives. After its original Serenity House was lost to a fire last year, Friend to Friend built a new one on the same undisclosed site, reopening in less than a year.
"This was a wonderful award we got for Serenity House," said Friend to Friend director Anne Friesen. "It is a very prestigious award."
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month across the nation, and Friesen made a presentation during the awards ceremony.
"I thanked everybody and read a letter from one of our clients thanking us for helping her," Friesen said. "She was regularly beaten by her husband, and the abuser would make the children gather around and watch as he beat her."
Friesen told the crowd that the children were doing very poorly in school but now are strong students, and the 12-year-old son just received a "most improved" award from his teacher. The mother and her children now have permanent housing, and she has two jobs. Her letter was written while they were staying in Serenity House.
"I wanted to take the time out to thank y'all for taking me and my kids in," she wrote in the letter. "I don't know where we would be if it hadn't been for y'all. First, I look in the mirror and - for the first time in a long time - I like what I see. The haircut and makeover have given me back a little of my self-esteem. Second, my children are starting to calm down.
"The longer they are away from their father and his abusive ways toward me, the less they have re-enacted his behavior. They are even starting to show more respect.
"No one, especially children, should live this way. What you ladies do is more than provide a shelter; you begin the foundation to a new improved and much happier life for those that come through those doors. A healing! I now know I did the right thing by leaving. My children and I deserve to live a life free of worrying that I - that we -might be killed. I thank you from the bottom of my heart; I am afraid without you there would be no us."
A moment of stunned silence followed, and Friesen could see tears streaming from faces in the crowd as she began to thank them for the award.
"Serenity House is funded as an emergency shelter," she said later. "But if somebody stays at Serenity House more than 72 hours, we have a really high rate of their going on to find permanent housing and becoming self-sufficient."
Friend to Friend's house is the only domestic violence and sexual assault shelter in Moore County. While the majority of its guests are from Moore County, the shelter also serves victims from surrounding counties and states that are fleeing abusers. Friend to Friend provides more than emergency shelter in Serenity House.
In other locations like its Carthage office, it offers other needed help. In one year alone, Friend to Friend served more than 2,200 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault by providing nearly a thousand counseling sessions and offering nearly 100 education sessions, both at Serenity House and in the community.
Since its first days in 1990, Serenity House has sheltered more than 12,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, the agency said in making the award. After the 2011 fire, Friend to Friend led an extraordinary effort to rebuild it in under a year and under budget. Community leaders call Serenity House one of the most vital social services in the area.
Friend to Friend is a United Way agency. It operates a 24/7 crisis line and a court advocacy program, and also provides community education, counseling services, legal aid and accompaniment to hospitals and courts.
In Moore County, the N.C. Housing Trust Fund, managed by the finance agency, provided Friend to Friend with financing when rebuilding Serenity House. Additional support came from local organizations and companies.
More information is available online at www.moorefriends.org. People are available daily, Monday through Friday, at the office, 105 McReynolds St., Suite F, or by phone at (910) 947-3333 day or night.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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