When Lori Gerber moved to Asheville five years ago, she saw a need that was going unmet: Although there are services here for victims of domestic violence and rape, there’s very little for those who’ve been traumatized by other violent crimes or natural disasters. With 25 years’ experience helping others in those situations — such as helping emergency responders in New York City after 9/11 — she co-founded the Center for New Beginnings with husband Steve Gerber. On Sept. 6, the organization will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony and fundraiser at its new offices in downtown Asheville to call attention to the group’s work with victims, survivors, witnesses and first responders.
But the organization itself has struggled to survive, co-director Steve Gerber reports. His wife, Lori Gerber, who founded the nonprofit, says: “This is my passion, to [help] people at the worst time in their lives. I’m honored to be there to listen and to help.”
Both Gerbers work other full-time jobs as well; Lori (a substance-abuse counselor by day) has worked in the field for decades, including counseling emergency responders in New York City after 9/11 and being the one who knocks on a family’s door to tell them a loved one has died.
“You have Helpmate, things for domestic violence for women,” Steve explains. But there is no victim-services agency for those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide or homicide, or people who’ve been burglarized or attacked. “That’s the niche we’re trying to fill in this community.”
The center, he says, gets calls from across Western North Carolina, reflecting the lack of available services. “We had a person come from Swain County who can’t sleep a lot,” Gerber recalls. “The first responders, too: the police officers and people who have to go and see these things. People need to talk about this and have therapy and counseling so they can go forward.”
Besides coordinating services provided elsewhere, the center does crisis intervention and post-trauma debriefing, trains first responders, works to boost general awareness and helps crime victims file compensation claims.
But if the need is clear, building community awareness of it has been “a slow process,” Gerber reports, adding that the response from law-enforcement agencies has been mixed. Although the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office uses the center’s services, he notes, “We’ve been getting some resistance, and I don’t really know why.” On the other hand, the Sheriff’s Office is helping put together literature to refer crime victims to the center.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit has found support from various quarters, including the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Western Carolina University, local churches, other nonprofits, Asheville FM and several local companies.
In addition, the center is currently seeking grant support, and it welcomes individual donations and volunteer help. “That will help us get more literature out in the community and hold special training and programs, to educate people on what we do,” Gerber explains.
And despite the challenges, the couple remains committed to their mission, he maintains. “Things are happening slowly, but they’re happening, so we’re not giving up.”