Helpmate in hard times

The winter months can be hard on people. And when the season gets dark and cold, people can be hard on each other. When a situation between partners or spouses turns abusive, Helpmate, a crisis center for victims of domestic violence and their children, has a team of specialist-volunteers to help.

“We’re the domestic violence agency for the community,” Valerie Collins, executive director of Helpmate, told Xpress. “We provide a number of services to help people during an immediate crisis, and to work through a domestic violence situation. We have a 24-hour hotline, an emergency shelter, individual and group counseling, civil and criminal court advocacy and we provide preventative education. We are probably most known for our emergency shelter. It is a 25-bed facility.”

Collins has been a domestic abuse advocate for 15 years, and with Helpmate for the past 10. “Every time I think I’m seeing patterns with domestic-abuse cases, I’m proved wrong,” Collins said, when asked if the holidays aggravate the number of domestic-violence cases. “The holidays themselves can be stressful, because everyone is trying to make things perfect, but really we see an increase after a long period where the weather has been bad, when there’s a stressful situation in the household and you’re cooped up together — often the kids are out of school and there’s more activity than usual. We tend to see a real spike after the New Year,” which Collins attributes more to weather than holiday-season stress.

The increase of crisis situations in the winter and holiday season exacerbates a more general rise over the past few years due, Collins has no doubt, to the unstable economy. “We have seen, more broadly in the last two years, a very sharp increase [in domestic violence cases] in general that we attribute to the recession. It’s significant. There has been a 40-percent increase in the nights of safety that we provide. Our crisis-line calls have increased by about that much too. What that says to me is that there are more people who need help, so they’re reaching out. It also tells me that when they get here there’s nowhere for them to go.”

Due to the extreme sensitivity of the situations Helpmate deals with, “We’re very careful about how we screen volunteers.” There are confidential ways to help, especially over the holidays. “What we encourage people in the community to do is to support people through the holidays by donating gift cards, which moms can then use to go shopping for their children — which is an empowering experience for them. Because we have such an itinerant population of people coming in when they’re in crisis, but then leaving once they’re stabilized, we don’t always know what to ask for in particular. That way they can get what’s needed — the correct sizes of clothing or age-appropriate toys. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it.”

To make a gift card donation — or any financial contribution, year-round — contact Helpmate’s Development Director, Ann Flynn at 254-2968 ext. 11, or email aflynn@helpmateonline.org. Donations can also be mailed to Helpmate directly, PO Box 2263, Asheville, N.C. 28802.

— Jaye Bartell can be reached at jbartell@mountainx.com

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