Why it matters: Carter County and the surrounding counties are no different than the rest of the country when it comes to the increasing numbers of  victims seeking shelter from the physical and emotional ravages left in the wake of domestic violence. The increase in victims means the current space offered at the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma is woefully inadequate. This fall, a capital campaign aimed renovating a newly purchased building that will provide more beds and better services for victims will be launched. Here’s why the new facility is needed.

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series.

The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma provides an immediate safe haven for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who have nowhere else to go. But that’s only part of the FSSO story. 

“Clients in-shelter, as well as out-clients (non-residential), are provided with advocates who offer opportunities to attend support groups, educational classes on the cycle of domestic violence, financial literacy, etc. Both types of clients are also offered group and individual counseling for their children by our on-site Licensed Professional Children’s Counselor, Penny Elliott. It’s all free of charge,” explains Tracie Owen, FSSO executive director.

The newly purchased building, located at 402 Pawnee St., will be renovated through a capital campaign launching this fall. Plans for the new facility not only include much needed additional bed space for in-shelter clients, but will also include enhanced spaces for services to the community through the wide variety of programs.

“What we hope to offer most through this new facility is a space to breath, to pause, to find support, and to be surrounded by reminders, whether it’s in the décor, the services offered, or through the smiling face of a staff member, that they (victims) are valuable and that they matter,” Owen said. “The goal is for every client to leave the shelter with the tools to live a life free of domestic violence or emotional control by someone else, and to walk out knowing their own worth, remembering who they were before they found themselves swept up in a domestic violence situation.”  

A service equally as critical as assisting adult victims is the counseling Elliott offers children, both those living at the shelter and those served on an out-client basis, including referrals.  

Elliott specializes in counseling for children suffering from sexual abuse and other serious traumas.

“What’s amazing is that we are blessed to have her covered under grants that allow her services to be free to our community,” Owen said.

Elliott recently attended  specialized “sand tray therapy” training in Dallas and said she is now preparing to implement the therapy into her regular practice. She also talked about the new space and her desire to provide children with the experience of both indoor and outdoor play therapy at the new facility.

“Watching her face light up when she speaks about it is quite a joy,” Owen said. 

While many children of victims may not witness first hand the savagery of the act, that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer the trauma linked to domestic violence. Dee Dee Hunter, FSSO manager, describes the secondary effects. 

“When a child hears it through the walls it’s much more traumatizing because they do not know what is going to happen next and often times that leaves them extremely traumatized as though they have been physically abused even though secondary is emotional,” she said. “It’s harder in my opinion for a child to lose the fear of secondary than physical because it’s a repeat in their mind and a trigger.”

Hunter also described how the lack of space in the current facility hampers efforts to restore the spirits of the children served.

“Our shelter is so small. Our kitchen is tiny and on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, clients’ birthdays, I would like all of our clients to be in there cooking and setting the table together and teaching the kids how to learn about new people and new ways from what they have recently come from. I don’t want them to have to have meals on schedules because there is no room for them all to be together. I want them to color Easter Eggs together and have fun for the first time in a long time. These kids come in terrified and before they leave they are loving on their parents and showing staff respect. It is an amazing transformation to watch that I am blessed to be able to manage the shelter. It’s more than a blessing. It’s an honor,” she said. 

Assisting victims recover and move on to happy, healthy, productive lives is paramount. However, there is one final part of the FSSO story that is correspondingly vital.

“I want to stress that everything we do at FSSO is totally confidential regarding client anonymity, and we are fierce about the protection of our clients’ privacy. Our agency is certified through the Oklahoma State Attorney General’s office, and we have to follow many protocols, policies and procedures to stay in compliance. We are funded by many generous foundations and grants, and the United Way,” Owen said.

 So what’s the bottom line? When the capital campaign launches in a few weeks, what’s the goal?

“This new facility will allow us to serve this community in a more functional way, as well as serve more clients, both in-clients (shelter residents) and out clients (non-residents).  Improving the lives of the victimized in our community and keeping them safe and healthy, plus having a board that is active, involved, and highly passionate about the cause, are the only motivations we need to lead the charge in this upcoming capital campaign,” Owen said. The ultimate financial goal will be to raise around $2 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but we have a very generous and servant-hearted community and I have no doubt that we will meet the financial goals to make this facility the needed refuge for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Those interested in jump-starting the capital campaign either through a donation or conducting fundraisers should contact Owen or Jeannie Harper, FSSO office administrator, at (580) 226-3750.