A place of shelter and refuge is what often comes to mind when someone mentions the Women’s Resource Center of Racine. And while its role as such is a very important one, there is much more to the nonprofit, social service organization that has served families and individuals in Racine County for more than 30 years, according to Cherie Griffin, executive director of the WRC.
Founded in 1977 by the Sisters of St. Dominic and other concerned women who wished to see an end to domestic violence, the WRC provides individually tailored services to help victims of domestic violence heal from the wounds of abuse and achieve safety and self-sufficiency for a lifetime. In addition to the 300-350 women and children served in the center’s emergency shelter annually, more than 700 people of all ages are served by its community-based programs, said Griffin, who has worked with domestic violence for 15 years. With all of its preventative and educational services, the number of people reached by the WRC each year is in the thousands, she said.
Some of its most critical work is providing legal advocacy for victims. Whether it’s assistance in obtaining restraining orders; helping people understand and prepare for a divorce process; or providing an advocate to be there during court proceedings, the WRC’s legal advocacy programs support victims through what can be a scary process.
“We help people have an understanding of what they are facing going forward,” Griffin said. “And we can be there to hear what the judge says and explain what it means, at a time when (the victim) may be in shock and unable to focus on what’s being said.”
A success story
For one young mother who was unemployed and pregnant with her second child when she fled her abusive home, the center’s legal advocacy program helped find an attorney willing to take her divorce case pro bono. New to the area and still getting acclimated, she came to the shelter with little to nothing. The WRC helped her get a restraining order; went to court with her as she fought for custody of her older child; and connected her with another local agency which helped her secure health insurance.
“I didn’t know about all the resources available to me,” said the mother (The Journal Times is withholding her name to protect her privacy). “I could not have accomplished what I did without the Women’s Resource Center. They reinforced me.”
Today, she is living independently and is employed at a transitional housing complex. Her goals include going to school to earn a nursing degree.
“I feel like it’s all right there at my fingertips, and I just need to reach out and grab it,” she said. “And I’m going to do that. I’m not sticking to the past.”
These and other wrap-around services provided by the center can be life-saving, Griffin said. And people don’t have to leave home to access them. The WRC provides safety planning and counseling to people out in the community, aimed at eliminating danger in their lives.
Counselors can help women think through situations such as having the security guard at work escort them to their car, or how to map out a safe route. And, the WRC’s Hand-to-Hand program provides monitored children exchanges and visitations to ensure the safety of all involved in shared custody situations.
All of the center’s services are offered free of charge in order to eliminate any hurdle in accessing them, Griffin said. The WRC’s funding comes from varied sources ranging from the United Way to a dozen local, state and federal grants. And members of their staff of 18 full-and part-time employees work with people in western Racine County, as well as the city. “We serve every nook and cranny throughout the county,” Griffin said.
The WRC also has strong partnerships with other agencies that help carry out its work, including the Racine Dominicans’ HOPES Center and Legal Action of Wisconsin. In 2012 — before the salon shooting in Brookfield — the center joined a new partnership with area law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s office and other groups, Griffin said. Racine County’s new domestic violence task force is working to develop initiatives that best utilize their combined resources to improve protection for domestic abuse victims.
The WRC has been recognized around the state for its efforts, and its staff is sought for training by other programs, according to Griffin. It also offers training to any group or individual who wants to be a voice against domestic violence. Everyone from clergy to bartenders, to neighbors and co-workers can play a role in reaching out and supporting victims until they can access the services they need, Griffin said.
“We can’t do it alone or be every place in the community,” she said. “If all of these people were ready and willing to respond, they could connect people to us and we could do what we do.”
Domestic violence affects every walk of life and is really everyone’s business, Griffin said. And helping victims is “hopeful work.”
“It is sad at times,” she said. “But it also very hopeful.”
Volunteers and their contributions
Volunteers play an important part in the success of the Women’s Resource Center and are needed in a variety of roles, ranging from folding linens and clerical work to tutoring or mentoring victims and their children, according to Cherie Griffin, WRC executive director. The center not only provides whatever training is necessary for a specific job, but works to connect volunteers with jobs that fit their interests and strengths, Griffin said. “We want to give our volunteers the opportunity to have an experience that is meaningful for them,” she said. “That’s why making the right connection is so important.”
Men and women are welcomed as volunteers with the WRC, and all are given background checks to ensure they have no violent history, Griffin said.
Area church and community groups also give their time doing special projects with the center. The Racine Founders Rotary club, for example, recently completed a kitchen renovation project in the WRC’s turn-of-the-century building. Other project possibilities range from yard work to providing birthday or holiday celebrations — the volunteer possibilities are endless, according to the WRC’s website, www.wrcracine.com. Interested persons can call (262) 633-3274 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Women’s Resource Center is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with a gala benefit called Groovin’ for a Cause on Feb. 16 at Infusino’s Banquet Hall, 3201 Rapids Drive. Gala guests will travel back to the 1970s with dancing, disc jockey music, a costume contest, door prizes and a silent auction. There will also be a hors d’ oeuvres buffet and three hours of open bar. Safe rides will be available to all guests.
Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $70 each or $500 for a table of eight. Event sponsorships and auction/raffle items are also being sought by the WRC. All sponsorships are tax deductible.
Groovin for a Cause is the WRC’s fourth annual gala, and one of three major fundraisers held each year. A summer golf outing and the WRC’s Fall Fling also help fund the center’s programming. For more about these events, go to www.wrcracine.com or call (262) 633-3274 and ask for Cherie or Sue.
The Women’s Resource Center’s 24-hour crisis line is (262) 633-3233 or 1-800-794-7057. It is staffed by trained counselors to provide guidance and assistance to women and families with domestic violence issues. Victims of domestic violence who are in immediate danger should call 911.