The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 28, 2013

Federal budget cuts could hurt YWCA funding

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Women and children recovering from domestic violence now need more help from the local community, as federal budget cuts have reduced funding to the crisis center and halfway house at YWCA Enid.

Kim Blankenship, executive director of YWCA Enid, shared that news Thursday during the YWCA Enid Sponsorship Tea, the official kickoff to the annual sponsorship drive.

Blankenship said the sponsorship drive promotes public support for YWCA Enid services, and provides crucial funds for operating expenses.

“It directly impacts and improves our crisis center and halfway house,” Blankenship said, “and helps cover the direct costs and needs of the women and children we serve.”

The crisis center houses domestic violence victims during a 30-day program, which may be extended if needed.

The program offers counseling services and connection with a victims’ advocate, who can help with court processes, medical needs, job training and housing assistance after the program.

Blankenship said the sponsorship proceeds, which normally cover 7-10 percent of the operating costs for the crisis center and halfway house, have become more important due to cuts in federal grant funding.

YWCA Enid recently lost out on $500,000 of funding, which would have been spread over a five-year term, when the Rural Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant was cut from the federal budget.

Blankenship said YWCA Enid has operated with the assistance of the grant over the last four years, but now must stretch its budget to make up the difference.

The budget cuts already have forced the elimination of two full-time and one part-time position at YWCA Enid: a victims’ advocate, part-time counselor and the community development specialist.

Blankenship said YWCA Enid will not be cutting its services, but the reduced staff will be “picking up the pieces” to maintain services with fewer people and less money.

Janet Marti knows firsthand how important those services are to a family in need.

Marti came to the YWCA Enid crisis center on Dec. 21, 2012.

It was four days before Christmas, and the mother of five found herself and her children out on the street after she suffered a domestic violence incident. Marti, originally from Florida, speaks little English, and had no car and little in the way of money.

Through an interpreter, Marti said she found the support and help she needed to get back on her feet and provide for her children.

Since arrival, she has saved enough money to purchase her own vehicle, and is making plans to move out of the crisis center and start a new permanent home for herself and her children.

She said the help means a lot to her, not only to find a place to stay, but to find emotional support and someone she could count on.

Blankenship told the assembled sponsors Marti’s story is all-too-common at the crisis center.

“We wanted you to see this family, who could be your next door neighbor, and they’re here because they need your help,” Blankenship said.

She said the Martis’ progress over the last two months has been “inspiring.”

“It’s amazing to see what this family goes through on a daily basis,” Blankenship said, “but she’s here to keep her family safe, and that’s what’s important.”

YWCA Enid crisis center director Shalonda Kearney said demand for crisis center services has been on the rise. She said the shelter houses about 20 families at any given time, and demand for services during the families’ stay has been increasing.

In order to keep up with those increasing demands, Blankenship said YWCA Enid will have to rely more on community donations.

She said YWCA Enid is in need of both monetary donations and volunteers to keep providing services to area women and children in need.

Volunteers are needed to serve as Sexual Assault Response Advocates, who assist victims and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners during examinations.

Volunteers also are needed to help stage annual YWCA events, such as the leadership luncheon, Girl Power and Christmas charity drives.

Community members can pledge their support as a sponsor, either in person at 525 S. Quincy or online at www.ywcaenid.com.

Blankenship said sponsorship levels start at $30 and “go as high as high as anyone wants to give.”