Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Celebrating Bethany House, Remembering the Toledo/Lucas County Domestic Violence Prevention Board

At Lourdes college, celebrating Bethany House's 30 years. 
Bethany House, the first and the only long-term shelter for abused women and their families in NW Ohio, celebrated its 30th anniversary on Sunday.  Fittingly, the celebration was held at Lourdes college, the home of the Franciscan sisters who have played such a large role in creating and sustaining the house. Sister Mary Jon, the head of the Franciscan sisters, presented a moving testimonial to Sr. Mary Therese, whose passion for putting words and faith into action inspired them to act.  Bethany House is one result, a mission of the Sisters of Saint Francis to this day.

Past president Mr. Tom Jones memorialized his daughter, noting how important a long-term shelter is for women who want to live free of violence and need time and help. "I have witnessed the work of faith," he said.  "It makes me feel my daughter did not die in vain."  His comments reminded us that death stalks these victims.

Current board president Paul Sullivan, Jr, accepted a City Council Proclamation acknowledging Bethany House's achievements.

The celebration featured a documentary about  the history and purpose of Bethany House.  Women who lived at the House, who had suffered violence for so many years, bore witness to how Bethany literally saved their lives, powerful stories of growing to independence and self-sufficiency. Many of the women were in the audience, recalling the hope they found.  A young boy rose to thank Bethany for bringing his mom and siblings together in a safe place.   A woman told us: "I've seen my sister grow and blossom thanks to Bethany House."

Can't believe I found this old
button from Domestic Violence
Board's Public Awareness Campaign!
I was glad to be part of this celebration.  It took me back to the first-ever Toledo/Lucas County Domestic Violence Prevention Board (1978-1983), which I staffed.  This pioneering board was under the aegis of the Community Planning Council, with the aid of an LEAA grant, and chaired by Bishop James Hoffman.  The Bishop did an extraordinary job of organizing the board and developing its goals and programs.

The members of this board were appointed by the Mayor and the Lucas County Board of Commissioners.  It was a dedicated group involving people like Judge Charles Abood and other pioneers. Its mission was to help create a coordinated service delivery system and a safe shelter for women; raise public awareness; and provide training for the police and the criminal justice system, then on the frontlines of the silent but deadly problem.

At the time the only available shelter was the YWCA, a short-term safety net. It continues to provide emergency shelter and services.  The Domestic Violence Prevention Board brought in experts like psychologist and author Lenore Walker (The Battered Woman, 1979) to talk about the extent and nature of the issue.  It developed training for police, criminal justice and social services agencies.  It instituted an annual public education campaign called "Love Beats Abuse." I actually found a button from the first campaign!   One board member, Nancy Metzger, got the support of the Junior League and did yoeman's work in informing the media about the issue at a time when few people talked about it and public awareness was low.  It was a pioneering effort. Does anyone remember it? Is it forgotten history?

Walker's 2nd book.
I left Toledo in 1985, a few years after this Board merged with the United Way Child Abuse Prevention Agency.  How wonderful to learn about the history and successes of Bethany House since that time.  It represents an answered prayer to those of us early workers who plowed the field and planted seeds in order to meet the critical need for shelter, safety and support.

Bethany House stands on the shoulders of many volunteers, the dedication and hard work of the Franciscan sisters, the victims of domestic violence, and the almost-forgotten groundbreaking efforts of the unsung pioneers of the first Toledo/Lucas County Domestic Violence Prevention Board.

For information call Ohio Domestic Violence Network, 800-934-9840 or 419/727-4948.  For the YWCA call 888-341-7386.  For Bethany House call 419-727-4948.

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