A serious column is really not a REACH for me
Most of my columns are a bit on the lighter side — not about light beer, mind you, but certainly ‘lighthearted’ in approach and/or content.
This week is a bit of departure, because I am writing about a subject most people don’t want to talk about, not even with their best friend or spouse. I’m writing about domestic violence —violence in the home, sexual assault, dating abuse and elder abuse.
Hopefully, I haven’t lost you as a reader at this point, because there is a big problem with domestic violence in the mountains.
I had my first encounter with this subject seven years ago, when the subject of one of my first columns was ‘the most stolen book from the library.’
“Guinness Book of World Records” had boasted that its book is “the most stolen.” I asked Haywood County’s head librarian to verify this, and was told that the most stolen books ‘round these parts’ are anything dealing with domestic violence and low-cost divorces.
No wonder most folks don’t want to borrow books on abuse — because the librarian, clerk, or person standing nearby might be a friend, neighbor or even a relative.
Did you know? Most people are embarrassed just to be seen glancing at books about abuse and domestic violence. Instead, they steal information about their problems, hope they aren’t discovered and continue to live in the shadows.
Haywood County is not alone in this growing national problem, but our area is uniquely blessed with an organization that brings abuse victims real hope — REACH of Haywood County.
REACH serves the survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse through advocacy, community outreach and prevention education. REACH uses educational programs to empower people to live self-sufficient lives, free from violence.
“We are here to empower victims,” said Julia Freeman, REACH executive director. “We help them with the changes they need to make.”
It’s an ongoing struggle, because the average victim of domestic violence returns to the same abusive situation seven to nine times, before finding resolution.
“God made us very forgiving, said Freeman. “Each time, REACH provides new tools for the individuals, families and the extended families.
“Domestic violence does not discriminate,” she said. “We see it in all relationships — singles, couples, old, young and same-sex.”
Domestic violence is especially prevalent in the younger generation (18-24 years old) because they typically have fewer resources. And it is a growing problem among seniors who are reluctant to report abuse because there is such a stigma attached to the problem — especially when it involves caregivers and close family members.
“I’ve seen it all,” said Freeman, “Even a teenager who tied up a grandparent each day, before going to work — for the grandparent’s safety.”
REACH of Haywood County provides a 24-hour Crisis Hotline. It’s most victims’ first point of access for help. Make note of the number — 828-456-7898.
Through this portal, REACH provides access to:
Legal and court assistance — including advocacy, help navigating the judicial system and fast access to helpful community resources through REACH’s many outreach partners
Financial Assistance — including education, job training, job placement and a pathway to becoming self-sufficient
Emergency access to the REACH shelter — Home to 100-125 people per year, averaging a stay of more than 18 days
Services for elderly and those with disabilities
Referrals to other local agencies
Community education and prevention programs — Like ‘Safe Dates’
All REACH services are provided free of charge for women, children and men, and all matters are kept strictly confidential.
In Western North Carolina, women represent 97 percent of abuse victims. And because most men are acting as the head of the household, women have little or no financial resources and are easily overpowered and overwhelmed.
“They have nowhere else to turn,” said Freeman, who has overseen REACH for nearly 20 years — starting on the board, then serving as a volunteer before becoming executive director.
“We make a difference,” she said. “And we measure success in many ways. Sometimes that difference is helping a victim get a driver’s license or opening a checking account — Getting a G.E.D. or simply regaining their self-worth.”
REACH has made a tremendous impact in our community and, to date, REACH has come to the aid of more than 770 abuse victims and survivors.
“Unfortunately, the power of fear and intimidation is stronger than it has ever been,” said Freeman. “It’s the result social media, bullying, texting and even tracking devices.”
As a result, REACH has an increased need community support.
Consider volunteering in the office or at the REACH resale store on Hazelwood Avenue. Become “A Friend of Reach.” Donate clothes and household items to the REACH store, and shop there yourself. Attend REACH sponsored events like the recent “Main Event” concert with Balsam Range. It all helps.
You can also make difference simply by staying vigilant.
“Prevention is the key to breaking the cycle of domestic violence,” said Freeman. “And REACH programs are helping.”
One great example is “Safe Dates,” REACH’s four-part series to 7th and 8th graders. Recently a teenager completed the classes, then encouraged her mother to go to REACH for help.
For more information, visit www.reachofhaywood.org or call 828-456-7898.