The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma celebrates 30 years of service

Plamedie Ifasso
The Daily Ardmoreite

The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma recently celebrated 30 years of serving victims of sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence. 

The Family Shelter was actually started in 1986 by a group of concerned citizens, Executive Director of the Family Shelter Kathy Manning said. There had been an uptick in abuse in Carter County and surrounding areas. The group determined that the best way to reduce abuse was to provide a physical shelter for where families could be safe. 

“They were basically running a small organization out of a basement office that was the size of a closet,” Manning said. “They had a typewriter, a ream of paper and 100 bucks. That’s pretty much how it started. They had a vision and dream that people had a safe place, and they were spending their own money providing hotel rooms for victims of abuse.” 

In 1991, the Family Shelter officially became a 501c3 and was able to open its 12-bed shelter and crisis line. Manning said the agency’s service areas are Carter, Johnston, Love, Murray and Marshall counties, but they also provide services all over the state and surrounding states. The goal is to help anyone experiencing stalking, sexual assault and domestic violence. 

The nonprofit offers a variety of resources including counseling and support groups for victims. The organization also teaches a domestic education class for survivors and public education, so they community can be more knowledgeable about sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. 

Lack of transportation can be a barrier to receiving services, so Manning said they provide transportation to their clients as well as medical and legal accompaniment. 

“We have an onsite Legal Aid attorney that meets with our clients, so we do have legal assistance,” Manning said. “We really tried to look at the issues our clients have, and they come to us with. We look at how we can make their situation better.” 

The Family Shelter also provides crisis intervention to help victims create a safety plan and learn about available resources and services. Manning said that when she first joined the organization, they were seeing about 250 crisis calls a year, and now the calls are up to 700 a year. 

Victim advocate Dee Dee Hunter at the Family Shelter's candlelight vigil pre-pandemic.

“This does not include our face to face calls where people just stop,” Manning said. “Or if we’re at a courthouse or event, that does not include those contacts. That is just our crisis call contacts. That has increased tremendously. Our numbers are hard because we track them so differently, but throughout the pandemic, we saw almost a thousand clients in some way or another.”

The organization also has a 30-day emergency shelter for victims escaping violent situations. The Family Shelter recently moved out of its 12-bed shelter to a 28-bed shelter in June. Manning said the new shelter allows for collaboration with other agencies such as financial literacy through the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma and parenting class with the Community Youth Services of Southern Oklahoma. 

“We moved from the old facility to the new facility with four clients,” Manning said. “Within four days, we were almost full. We have been very steady ever since.”

Because a lot of the counties the Family Shelter serves are more rural, some clients have had trouble accessing resources. Manning said the agency typically offered services in different counties to combat the accessibility barrier, but this was difficult to do during the pandemic. 

The nonprofit shifted its services and resources online and found that the virtual services made it easier for some to reach out for help. Manning said even though the Family Shelter is offering in-person services again, they will continue to provide virtual resources. 

“We were able to reach a population throughout our service area that had really struggled before,” Manning said. 

The Family Shelter will be selling shirts to celebrate 30 years and raise awareness to domestic violence and sexual assault. Because of COVID, the agency hasn’t been able to host a fundraiser and thought selling shirts would be a good way to get back into fundraising. Those interested can call the Family Shelter at 580-226-3750 to purchase a shirt. 

Manning said if someone or someone they know is experiencing stalking, domestic violence and/or sexual assault or has questions, the best thing to do is to call the Family Shelter’s 24 hour crisis line at 580-226-6424. 

“We want friends and family to support, listen and let [victims] know that there are places out there,” Manning said. “They don’t have to live in a life where abuse is present. They are worth so much more than that. There are places out there that can help them. All of the services are free of charge.”