By DELANIA TRIGG, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
The wait for families seeking safety from domestic violence is getting shorter as the Abigail’s Arms Family Crisis Shelter takes shape in Gainesville.
The first of its kind in Cooke County, the new Abigail’s Arms facility on North Aspen Road was patterned after a domestic violence shelter in Sherman, Abigail’s Arms executive director Kim Cook said recently.
“Our shelter is very much like the Sherman shelter,” she said. “But we’ve worked with our contractor John Beck to make some adjustments and changes to fit our needs.”
Cook and Abigail’s Arms community liaison and advocate Kelly Fiore-Watson said some families are waiting for completion of the shelter before making their break for freedom.
“We have received calls from women asking when the shelter will be open,” Cook said. “ They tell us, when it is open they will feel more comfortable leaving their violently charged atmosphere.”
The shelter is scheduled to open next summer, she added..
The 9,000 square foot building is under construction on land Cooke County residents Jess and Bernice Cason donated for the project.
The shelter will include a number of amenities designed to help individuals and families transition into happier, more productive lives.
Included is a comfortable kitchen to allow families to plan and prepare their own meals, Cook said.
“Many times people will pitch in and cook for others and it becomes like a family with everyone helping everyone else,” Cook said during a recent tour of the facility.
Clients will also control the heating and temperature settings inside their individual rooms, Fiore-Watson said.
“Something as small as being about to adjust your thermostat means so much to someone who has not been allowed to make their own decisions in a long time,” she said.
Shelter staff will also work to keep families together during their shelter stay. Some shelters separate boys over the age of 14 from their other family members, Fiore-Watson said. The Abigail’s Arms shelter will allow teenage boys to remain with their families.
Security is also a top priority.
The facility includes a secure parking lot, double fences and video cameras in some areas. Access to the building will be electronically monitored and the facility includes a safe room for use during severe weather.
In addition to helping families in domestic violence situations, Abigail’s Arms is also a resource for sexual assault victims.
Current procedures require Cooke County sexual assault victims to be driven to Denton Regional Medical Center Emergency Room for examine by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE).
This procedure will soon change thanks to a recent grant to provide equipment and trained SANE nurses for North Texas Medical Center in Gainesville.
“Driving a victim of sexual assault to another town that is 30 to 45 minutes away is so difficult,” Fiore-Watson said. “ Those of us that are Trained Sexual Assault advocates are prepared for this kind of crisis, but listening to your victim weep the entire ride to Denton…no one can be prepared for the emotional toll it can take.”
The shelter will also include a forensic interview room for crime victims including young children.
Having a forensic interview room at the shelter will save staff workers and children from having to take a trip to Lewisville to make statements related to criminal investigations.
“Having to drive young clients an hour away has always been a challenge,” Fiore-Watson said. “ Most of the time the victim or young child will fall asleep on the road. Then to try awake the child, lead them into the interview process and ask them to cooperate in telling a story they really wish would just go away can prove futile. Any mother knows, if your child falls asleep car during a road trip of any size, the child may or may not wake up in the best mood for cooperation.”
In addition to housing Abigail’s Arms administrative offices, the shelter is also designed to be a home for families in transition.
The facility will include two indoor play areas, common rooms, a computer/study room with wifi and a secure outdoor play yard for children.
The shelter opening is expected to increase staff requirements for Abigail’s Arms Cooke County Family Crisis Center.
“In 2011 Abigail’s Arms provided services to 428 victims,” Cook noted. “Statistics show that when a crisis center increases their services to include a shelter the numbers can double in a single year.”
Staff is scheduled to increase 100 percent to effectively manage the shelter, Cook said. Additional positions include shelter director, operations manager and additional administrative client services team.
Abigail’s Arms supporters point out the shelter will help change lives and help eliminate suffering for many families.
Until the shelter opens, Abigail’s Arms staff has only had two options for helping families leave violent homes. One option has been to provide clients with hotel vouchers — a temporary solution to a long term problem.
The other option is placing families in shelters in neighboring counties, Cook said.
“Unfortunately, many of the victims in Cooke County are not willing to relocate to a shelter in Denton or Sherman,” she said. “ In this case, the only option is to create a safety plan for the client with their case manager. More often than not, they go back to their abuser.”
“Many women don’t want to leave their town, take their kids away from their schools, churches and other family members,” she said. “ I am a mom and I know the most important thing when a child is in any crisis situation is to try to keep some normalcy in our lives, you know? Some connection to familiarity of how things were before the crisis. Abigail’s Arms Crisis Shelter will be able to not only house these families but rebuild them, heart, mind and soul.”
For information on the Abigail’s Arms project or to find out more about the agency visit www.abigailsarms.org.