North Texas Daily

Hidden in Plain Sight: agency helps domestic abuse victims

Hidden in Plain Sight: agency helps domestic abuse victims

April 17
01:40 2014

Caitlyn Jones // Staff Writer

Hard slaps fly across faces. Complaints of vulgar insults spew across the room and strong hands shake cringing bodies into submission. These situations are examples of the harsh, daily realities those suffering from domestic violence could face.

Nearly one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse. For residents of Denton County, there is help.

The Denton County Friends of the Family organization offers victims of domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, food, counseling and legal advice, all of which are free of charge.

“Our mission is to provide help to victims as well as eliminate abuse in the larger picture,” Director of Victim Outreach Nicole Holmes said.

Holmes has worked at Friends of the Family since 2005.

The idea for the organization stemmed from the battered women’s movement in 1985 and has grown into a nonprofit organization that has helped 6,421 victims in the past year.

No one is ever turned away or required to provide proof of violence in order to receive help from Friends of the Family.

“If a client comes to us and says ‘I was raped’ or ‘I’m being abused,’ that’s all we need,” Holmes said. “We take them at their word.”

The majority of clients are women, but services are also extended to men, who make up an estimated 5 percent of people helped by the organization.

In addition to emergency victim services, the group also offers advocacy workshops at schools and churches to discourage violence and bullying. It also runs a 27-week Violence Intervention and Prevention Program (VIPP) to help abusive individuals, most of whom are required to attend as part of a court probation or parole.

“We don’t get voluntary people very often,” Holmes said. “It’s rare for a man to stand up and say, ‘I have a problem with battering and I need to get help.’”

The outreach office is located in Corinth and serves as the hub of administrative and counseling services.

Behind the card-entry doors sit the offices of the full-time staff and the 15 to 20 interns. All interns are master’s and doctorate students from both Texas Women’s University and UNT.

There are three adult counseling rooms and three group counseling rooms equipped with cameras for training purposes.

In addition to that, the organization has three play therapy rooms for children’s counseling. Each room follows UNT’s play therapy model and contains sandboxes, blocks and figurines, among other toys.

Also offered is an activity room for adolescent counseling filled with beanbags, arts and crafts and a movable sand tray.

“Of course, any 12-year-old is going to tell you that they’re too old for play therapy, so we wanted to provide a comfortable environment for them as well,” Holmes said.

Many of the clients are impoverished and make use of the food pantry, fueled by donations from Wal-Mart and other local stores.

“Most of the donated food is slightly damaged, like dented cans, or things that the stores couldn’t sell,” Holmes said. “Like two Christmases ago, we had a year’s supply of candy canes and this past Thanksgiving, we had Stovetop coming out of our ears.”

Clients also have access to legal counseling from Donna Bloom, the director of legal and advocacy services, as well as a career center to look for jobs and work on professional skills.

Friends of the Family is funded solely on grants, donations, fundraising, the VIPP program and the sales from its Denton thrift store.

The thrift store on University Drive is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., selling merchandise and taking donations.

The thrift store manager, Mary Irby, sees an estimated 25 donations per day but rarely turns anything away.

“Normally, I don’t turn down a donation unless I’m packed to the ceiling,” said Irby, an employee since 2007. “Even then, I’m still thinking of a way to move stuff around and get it in there.”

The thrift store sells clothing, shoes, home goods and toys to Friends of the Family clients as well as the general public.

Cathy Sprayberry, a volunteer of 16 years, started as a shopper and then decided to get involved.

“I like doing things to help people and this is a great organization to be a part of,” Sprayberry said.

Irby agreed and said the hardest part of her job is being unable to lower prices for people.

“I want to be there for them and I want to work the price, but I cannot do that all the time,” she said. “I can see their hearts drop and I can see their expression but I have to stand my ground.”

The number of people helped by Friends of the Family continues to grow due to increased advocacy, Holmes said. Still, there’s only so much the organization can do to help.

“All we have is to work with the system that exists and there’s a lot of problems with our system,” she said. “I have a client who gets $11 a month on food stamps. Most of the food banks only take families with children and she has no children. How do you live off of that?”

The frustration doesn’t end there for Holmes and her clients. One has an ex-husband who is a registered sex offender but still gets visitation rights to their children.

“His own children weren’t his victims,” Holmes said. “Until he sexually abuses his own kids, the court says he’s fine to be a father.”

Even in the face of staggering obstacles, she hopes to continue helping victims and breaking the cycle of sexual assaults and domestic abuse.

“I feel a sense of meaning in what I do,” she said. “While I may have really hard things to hear, I hang on to the successes and the people who do get saved.”

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