Even Michele Schott’s divorce lawyer turned a blind eye to the beatings she suffered from her husband. He wouldn’t help, so she turned to the one place she knew would.
Within 48 hours of calling SafeHomes of Augusta, Schott was in front of a judge who granted a temporary protective order against her husband of 18 years. By attending group therapy and counseling sessions at SafeHomes, she found the courage to admit she was a victim of domestic abuse and the strength to become a survivor.
SafeHomes, a nonprofit that intervenes to stop domestic violence, serves hundreds of women each year in Augusta and nine surrounding counties. On Thursday, it launched the public phase of a $3 million capital campaign to reach even more women.
“It’s happening all the time,” Schott said. “People don’t necessarily want to admit it unless they feel somebody can relate, will not judge and will give them a helping hand.”
About 60 percent of the campaign’s goal, or $1.8 million, has been raised largely through corporate donations. The money will build a new center to house administrative offices and 36 beds to shelter women escaping violent situations, more than doubling the 16-bed shelter that has been used since SafeHomes began in Augusta 30 years ago.
“We’ve outgrown our building,” Executive Director Aimee Hall said. “It’s not big enough and it’s falling apart.”
The new 14,500-square foot shelter and office will be gated to protect the confidentiality and well-being of clients. The shelter’s current location has been kept secret from the public because it lacks adequate security, Hall said.
Schott, who serves on the SafeHomes board of directors, dreams of a larger space that can serve even more victims of domestic violence and potentially help abusers stop their dangerous habits.
Schott’s abusive relationship began on her wedding day, she said, when the man who charmed her while they dated had a sudden outburst of anger and twisted her arm behind her back. She stayed in the relationship for 18 years, trying marriage counseling to correct the issues.
“If you’re too afraid to leave or you’re not ready to leave, start somewhere,”she said. “Put your first foot forward.”
Hall said more people are seeking help at SafeHomes because they are more aware that the organization exists to help. SafeHomes turned away 329 women and children in 2013.
The new building will have meeting space for teen dating classes and expanded programs for Spanish-speaking clients.