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Breaking abuse

County center helps domestic violence victims start new lives
by: Jaime Valdez, NO LONGER A VICTIM – “Angelica” has started a new life after the Domestic Violence Resource Center helped her out of a dangerous marriage that also victimized her son.

A small but powerful organization has been quietly going about the business of saving lives since 1975, yet many people have never heard of it.

The Domestic Violence Resource Center, which is based in Hillsboro, is working to eliminate domestic violence and give victims and survivors the tools they need to make better choices and take control of their own lives.

'We are the only agency in Washington County for victims,' said Peter Korchnak, the center's development director. 'Other agencies serve them but are not specifically geared toward domestic violence victims. We operate the only shelter in the county for domestic violence victims.'

The 28-bed Monika's House Shelter, which is named after a woman who was murdered by her husband, offers emergency accommodations for up to six weeks plus support and advocacy for victims fleeing imminent physical danger.

Each year, up to 400 women and children stay there, and shelter advocates also operate a 24-hour crisis hotline, annually helping more than 2,000 callers in crisis situations with information, education and referrals to community services.

New Executive Director La Donna Burgess added, 'Women start out with a safety plan, deciding how they will meet their needs. Shelter staff helps them reach their goals.

'I was impressed with how much the shelter felt like home, not like an institution. The women cook for themselves. It is common for groups to form and help each other with meals. Mothers can reserve the playroom for their children to play alone away from the communal environment.'

Another arm of the center is its family violence intervention program, in which advocates and counselors provide individual, family and group counseling and offer support groups, referrals, advocacy, outreach and education.

Yet another program provides restraining order advocacy.

Staff assists petitioners with filing 17-page restraining order applications, and advocates accompany the women to court for support, each year helping more than 1,800 petitioners stay safe from their abusers.

'This is one of our major aid programs,' Korchnak said.

The Domestic Violence Resource Center offers counseling programs for both adults and children, with the adult program operating primarily out of the Washington County Courthouse and the children's intervention program operating out of the center.

There, staff counsels and supports children between the ages of 4 and 17 who have been exposed to domestic violence.

Every year, more than 150 children are treated, and the program also helps parents deal with their children who have experienced abuse.

Mychelle Moritz, who is director of the children's intervention program, said, 'We use metaphors with children. Children may play with dinosaurs and say, 'The dinosaur hurts children' instead of 'My dad hurt my mom.' We have them create a world and ask them, 'How does this figure feel? How does the dinosaur feel?''

The center has sand and water trays for children to use, and there's also a dollhouse and puppets to act out scenarios plus hundreds of toys.

'Whatever room we're in, children find what they need to express themselves,' Moritz said. 'I've had some kids for years. They have shame and loyalty issues. Sometimes kids don't trust anyone. A lot of our children are also directly abused themselves.

'Most kids like to come here, even if they don't want to deal with domestic violence. It's rewarding to work with these kids.'

The center's donation room is stacked with supplies ready to hand out. 'Everyone who exits the shelter gets a quilt,' Korchnak said. 'And our advocates stay in touch with families who go through our program.'

The center also provides food boxes in conjunction with St. Andrews Church as just one more way to provide support to families trying to get back on their feet.

The Domestic Violence Resource Center is a non-profit organization run by a volunteer board of directors.

'If people have a strong interest in domestic violence, they may be interested in becoming a board member,' Burgess said. 'Our board is strong and healthy but not full. We now have eight members but can have up to 15.'

Related story: A domestic violence victim speaks out