In 1981, to fight domestic abuse in rural West Virginia, Stop Abusive Family Environment Inc. (SAFE) was created. The organization was created to provide intervention assistance, agency referrals and court advocacy to abuse victims, while trying to create public awareness of domestic problems. SAFE provides services to three counties, McDowell, Wyoming, and Mercer.
From 1990 to 1995, there was a dramatic increase, from 417 to 1,008, in cases of domestic abuse reported to SAFE. Unfortunately, the closest domestic shelter in the area was 60 miles away in Raleigh. SAFE wanted to create a place in the local area that would not only provide shelter to victims but also teach them the skills they would need to make adjustments to their situation.
In 1996, the McDowell County Board of Education donated a closed school building to SAFE. SAFE used $2 million in grants and loans from the West Virginia Development office, the U.S. Department of Housing, the Kellogg Foundation and local agencies to renovate the building into a domestic abuse SAFE HOUSE. Volunteers renovated the building, producing 31 housing units, childcare facilities, a thrift store, an educational center, a playground and a gymnasium. Local community groups and individuals adopted each of the housing units, furnishing the units with furniture and household goods.
The SAFE HOUSE opened in January of 1997. People can stay at the SAFE HOUSE for up to two years. In that time they can attend educational classes on parenting and job preparation skills such as basic computer and literacy. Therapy for both adults and children is provided through counseling and support groups from AmeriCorps volunteers.
Since July, more than 700 shelter night hours and 100 people have already used the facilities. The SAFE HOUSE has approximately 40 volunteers who provide cooking, budgeting, reading and basic computer lessons.
The impact on the community can be seen in by the large amount of support the SAFE HOUSE has received. SAFE had no problem getting local groups to adopt houses or teach classes. Many other cities in West Virginia have asked to tour the SAFE HOUSE to get ideas on creating similar houses.