Avalon Center expands reach in fight against domestic violence

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

After spending 37 years helping survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, the Avalon Center is expanding its services to cover 300,000 more people. Avalon teamed up with the Laurel Shelter in Gloucester to extend outreach to the Middle Peninsula, including Gloucester, Mathews County, King William County and other nearby localities.

“It became clear that we could combine our efforts,” said Teresa Christin, the center’s executive director. “It would be easier, faster and more cost effective.”

The center aims to break the cycle of domestic and sexual abuse against adults and children through education, prevention, shelter and other support services.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by a partner. One in 15 children is exposed to such violence in a year.

The Laurel Shelter and Avalon Center share similar goals. But the Laurel Shelter didn’t have as many resources.

The shelter reached out to Avalon earlier this year with the intention of helping people in need more effectively. Robert Wilbanks, one of Laurel’s board members, said they can benefit from Avalon’s better infrastructure.

“Working closely with them has been really smooth,” he said. “I’m really excited about it, working with Avalon and seeing the efficiency that they have, to be able to get the most out of their resources. You’re able to help more people with the same money, with the same donations, with the same grants.”

It’s a personal matter for Wilbanks, who was raised by a single mother and witness domestic violence firsthand. Now, with a wife and two daughters, the mission resonates as much as ever.

“That’s something I’ve always felt, that’s a cycle that can be broken,” he said. “You also have to have the immediate help available.”

Avalon’s board of directors assessed the community and worked with the state to determine needs and standards.

“It’s really expensive to operate shelters like that 24/7,” Christin said. Avalon’s services include a shelter featuring 20 beds for those in need and transitional apartments for those working toward an independent life. Everything is driven by a core tenet: “If they are fleeing domestic violence or sexual assault, we do not turn them down.”

Avalon offers support groups, counseling, legal advocacy, childcare services, children’s activities, financing classes and more in hopes of breaking that cycle of abuse and violence. The organization partners with local businesses for training and job opportunities. The Laurel Shelter operates its own thrift store, which helps raise money to fund such efforts.

“Our aim is building self-sufficiency and self-esteem of both them and their children,” Christin said. That includes helping to locate safe, permanent housing and sometimes helping with rent. Avalon’s staff members and volunteers then keep in touch to make sure clients continue to thrive.

The center is also extending its youth services programs in hopes of addressing the impact of violence on developing minds. That includes a partnership with local high schools focusing on traits of healthy relationships and signs of abuse. The program now includes Gloucester schools.

Christin said the center is serving more people than ever, but that’s not necessarily because such abuse is more common. She attributed awareness campaigns from colleges, the NFL and others with encouraging people to seek out the help they need.

“To get a more peaceful world, you have to start with a more peaceful community and a more peaceful home,” she said.

Such efforts underscore one of Avalon’s main messages. Domestic violence does not only affect those of a particular class, race or religion. It can happen to anyone, and the effects ripple far and wide.

“It doesn’t have to be in everyone’s home for it to affect everyone,” said Priscilla Caldwell, director of development and communications.

Want to help?

To learn more about the Avalon Center, visit avaloncenter.org. To get involved, call 258-5544 or email priscilla@avaloncenter.org.

The Avalon Classic Golf Tournament tees off Nov. 3 at the Ford’s Colony Country Club. Registration is $100 and sponsorship opportunities are also available on Avalon’s website. The tournament features the chance to win a Toyota Avalon courtesy of Casey Toyota.

Need help?

Those in need can anonymously call the center’s 24-hour help line at 258-5051.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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