Harbor Style November 2017 : Page 105

C.A.R.E. Story by Carol Bruyere Photography by Steve Donaldson & Sue Paquin an American is sexually assaulted – 1 in 6 are women and 1 in 33 are men. And it is believed that 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported. One in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, as will some men will. Victims can be adults, children, teens, elderly, married or single, any ethnicity or sexual orientation. Approximately 4 out of 5 assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and 47 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 628 domestic violence offenses and 35 rapes reported in 2016 in Charlotte County. We Every 1.85 minutes Surprising statistics, right? These and other violent crimes (like murder, dating violence, DUI and robbery) and additional abusive situations (like stalking or bullying) can be traumatic and life-changing. If you are a victim, or know someone who is a victim, you may wonder “Who cares?” Well, there is a dedicated organization here in Charlotte County that definitely cares. The Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, Inc. (C.A.R.E.) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization of trained volunteers and professionals dedicated to assisting the victims of these specific crimes with information, advice, support and advocacy. ä H ARBOR STYLE | 105

WE C.A.R.E.

Carol Bruyere

The Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies Helps Victims of sexual assault, domestic violene lead safe, happy, secure and Ddgnified lives.

Every 1.85 minutes an American is sexually assaulted – 1 in 6 are women and 1 in 33 are men. And it is believed that 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported. One in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, as will some men will. Victims can be adults, children, teens, elderly, married or single, any ethnicity or sexual orientation. Approximately 4 out of 5 assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and 47 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 628 domestic violence offenses and 35 rapes reported in 2016 in Charlotte County.

Surprising statistics, right? These and other violent crimes (like murder, dating violence, DUI and robbery) and additional abusive situations (like stalking or bullying) can be traumatic and life-changing. If you are a victim, or know someone who is a victim, you may wonder “Who cares?”

Well, there is a dedicated organization here in Charlotte County that definitely cares. The Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, Inc. (C.A.R.E.) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization of trained volunteers and professionals dedicated to assisting the victims of these specific crimes with information, advice, support and advocacy.

Helping Victims

C. A.R.E. provides top-notch free and confidential services to victims of sexual assault and abuse. There are two separate hotlines that take calls 24/7 – (941) 637-0404 for sexual assault cases and (941) 627-6000 for abuse. Englewood has its own separate crisis hotline, (941) 475-6465.

“Expect an immediate response,” said Executive Director Karen McElhaney, who joined the organization in 2014. She has always been involved with empowering women. “It’s always been my passion.”

C. A.R.E. also offers assistance for hearing/speech/vision impaired victims (dial 711), sign language/foreign language interpreters and special help for disabled individuals. State and national hotline numbers are also listed on its website (www.carefl.org) and educational printouts. For emergencies, they advise victims to dial 911 first.

Additional victim assistance includes crisis intervention, supportive assistance in hospitals, a free and safe six-room, 24-bed domestic violence shelter, a separate transitional housing residence where victims pay no rent or utilities, relocation assistance, safety planning, counseling, access to state funds for victims’ expenses, free legal assistance, court advocacy, coordination of all services, information and referrals and support groups for both adults and children. McElhaney said their advocates even take bags with personal hygiene products and decent, comfortable new clothing to hospitalized victims “so they can leave with dignity.”

“We continue helping victims all through their lifetime. The abuse doesn’t have to be recent for counseling,” said Paula Hess, a founding board member.

A History Of C.A.R.E.

C. A.R.E., the first organization in Charlotte County for handling rape emergencies, was established 35 years ago after Charlotte County Chief Deputy Bill Reilly attended an FBI seminar that taught him the value of enlisting women volunteers to accompany rape victims during the additional trauma of police questioning to identify the perpetrator and the evidence preserving medical process. He also recognized the benefit of a “hotline” to contact the group directly for help as well as a follow-up advocacy program.

After Reilly returned home, he began speaking to several local women’s group to ask for help. “A loosely-formed group of 10 ladies from Zonta and other groups agreed to take crisis intervention training and to cover the 24/7 hotline,” Hess said. This group of dedicated responders included another founding board member, Jane Brenner, and Nancy Lisby, the first Executive Director. The Rape Crisis Center of Charlotte County was born.

In addition to Hess, Brenner and Lisby, additional founding board members included Phil Jones (the first Chairman), Dr. Jerry Ross (school psychologist), Margo Lang, Sheriff Glen Sapp, Rev. Michael Wilson, Earline Oliver and Board Treasurer Betty Flynn. Jones, an attorney, drew up the original incorporation and 501(c)3 filings.

“This founding board and corps of volunteers donated to pay for the hotline listed in the front of the telephone directory, worked with law enforcement responding to calls, held victims’ counseling sessions and continued recruitment and training,” Hess explained. Additionally, signs listing the services offered and the hotline number were posted in strategic locations around the county.

“Victims of domestic violence began calling for assistance and soon outnumbered rape calls,” Hess said. “It became apparent that more training, more volunteers, more funding was needed.”

The small group gained some financial help from United Way and the Florida International Air Show and began speaking to area groups to increase awareness of the possibility of these crimes happening in Charlotte County.

“The demand for services, and our reputation, grew,” Hess said. Donations increased. Sun Newspaper articles about their services and their need increased awareness. “The people of Charlotte County embraced us,” she said.

Since C.A.R.E. was providing an essential service, they requested and were awarded a $15,000 yearly contract from the Charlotte County Commission for their services and were also qualified for and received state funds from the then-recently passed federal Victims of Crime Act. Lisby, Hess, and other board members put together and implemented board and administrative policies, practices and procedures; a statement of purpose; a personal handbook; and board bylaws.

“We agreed,” Hess explained, “(that) C.A.R.E. is essentially a small business that has a compassionate mission. We must abide by sound financial management and good business practices. This philosophy has held us in good stead, still holds true, and is practiced today.”

It soon became obvious that a shelter was needed. Hess, the appointed Shelter Acquisition Chairman, arranged for a $1 per year lease for two years for a small, three-bedroom home on Taylor Road, slated to be demolished eventually for a future First Federal Bank building site. They were now qualified to receive funding from Charlotte County marriage license fees. Lisby became the volunteer Executive Director of this temporary shelter.

In 1985, the organization was renamed Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, Inc. (C.A.R.E.), and a search began for a more suitable, larger shelter. Not finding an affordable option, the board decided to build a new facility and began an intense fundraising effort. The City of Punta Gorda gave them $10,000 seed money from Revenue Sharing Funds. They leased a small parcel from Charlotte County for $1 a year, contingent on building the new shelter on the land in two years. Thanks to County and City assistance and C.A.R.E. fundraising, in 1987 the combination shelter/ administrative facility was completed and ready for business. Local churches, organizations and individuals donated funds to furnish client rooms. Lisby became the paid Executive Director.

With aid from the City of Punta Gorda, HUD and Habitat for Humanity, a separate transitional housing unit was completed in 2002.

In 2003 a Florida State Capital Improvement Grant was made available for needed shelter modifications. Hurricane Charley delayed it, but in 2007, with help from Supplementary Funding from Charlotte County, construction of the upgraded 24-bed shelter, counseling facility and separate staff/board room was completed.

In 2016 an expansion and kitchen renovation was started with funding approved by the Charlotte County Board of Commissioners.

Expanded Services

Over the years, services have expanded to include a “batterers” intervention program run by Ross, children’s services and special programs for domestic violence victims, like job training and acquisition help, budget planning, a pet program, cooking classes, participation in family meals, assistance in shopping trips, plus training for how to use coupons and read recipe books. Domestic abuse advocates are now working with Child Protective Investigations, the Department of Children and Families and Camelot Community Care to help victims deal with their situations. C.A.R.E. also now works with the Salvation Army and Goodwill to help victims find jobs and housing.

“We want to see economic improvement and economic justice for the victims,” McElhaney said.

Since victims of violence may have difficulty managing their emotions and envisioning a positive future, it may be a good idea for them to join one of C.A.R.E.’s informal, free support groups. Weekly sessions focus on helping each other deal with their past, their reactions and problems, create a “roadmap” for recovery, and “move forward on a path of healing and hope.”

C. A.R.E.’s goal “is to create safety in our community by helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes, and to promote non-violent relationships by example and education.”

Online and printed information available from C.A.R.E. includes not only how to get free and confidential help, but what abusive and assault cases are, what causes them, warning signs, examples, longterm effects, how to recognize and prevent these events, safety tips and planning, preparation for relocation and what to do after, how to help a friend and all C.A.R.E. services.

With C.A.R.E.’s free Prevention Education Program, designed to educate our community and stop violence before it starts, speakers are available for schools, youth programs, nursing homes, civic, church, health and other organizations. Topics include safe dating, power and control, sexual harassment, cyber safety, consent and coercion, domestic violence and the elderly and more. McElhaney said they are expanding this program and reaching out to groups like Boys and Girls Clubs, Crossroads Hope Academy, Girl Scouts, middle school students, Charlotte Technical College and other local college campuses. “If any agency, organization or church would like us to talk, we’d be happy to,” she said. More speaking in the community means more awareness and more calls for help.

They also provide professional prevention education to law enforcement, healthcare professionals and other professional groups. Contact an educator at (941) 627-6000 or (941) 475-6465 or call (941) 639-5499 to schedule a speaker.

How You Can make a Differnce

Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Thanks to C.A.R.E., you can help make our community safer. They have instituted a new Green Dot Program, which seeks to engage all community members of any socio-economic group as potential agents of social change. “Make it clear to everyone in your life that violence (and the toleration of violence) is not acceptable, and encourage them to feel the same way.”

A Green Dot is any behavior, choice, word or attitude that promotes safety for everyone and communicates utter intolerance for rape, partner violence and stalking. Green Dot equips us through awareness, education and skills-practice to integrate prevention and reduction of violence policies and promote healthy relationships and pass those strategies along. They suggest you intervene in a high-risk situation, talk to your friends, hang up a prevention poster, put a green-dot statement on your social networking page, wear greendot gear, put a link on your website to C.A.R.E. or organize a training program for your organization. Call (941) 639-5499 or email Chris Hall at chris.hall@carefl.org to request a free seminar.

Additionally, “there are many ways to C.A.R.E.”

Your donations, of course, are always welcome. You can set up a tax-exempt “monthly gift” cash donation or make a one-time donation on the C.A.R.E. website, carefl.org. You may also make a donation by mail to C.A.R.E., P.O Box 510234, Punta Gorda, 33951-0234. A “Legacy Gift” of cash, pension assets, stocks and bonds, insurance benefits or real estate from an individual, business or foundation can provide extended support into the future for C.A.R.E. victims and perhaps additional transitional housing. Information can also be found on the website, or consult with your will, trust or estate planning professionals.

Shop at smile.amazon.com, select C.A.R.E. as your charity, and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to C.A.R.E., or you can support C.A.R.E. by making purchases of items they need that are posted on their Amazon Wishlist and have them mailed to C.A.R.E.

You can also donate old cell phones for recycling, and funds will be sent back to C.A.R.E.

Businesses can also request a C.A.R.E. donation box to set up at their location.

Two C.A.R.E. Re-Use stores have been set up in partnership with Charlotte County Environmental Services to help you ReUse/ReCycle, keeping reusable items out of the landfills and augmenting C.A.R.E funding. Shop for or donate household goods, toys, clothing and other saleable/usable items at 7070 Environmental Way, Englewood or 19675 Kenilworth Blvd., Port Charlotte. Some donated items are provided free to victims and their families, while sales provide funds for C.A.R.E. operations.

In addition to your generous donations, C.A.R.E. receives partial funding through several city, county, state and federal organizations, like the Florida Department of Health and DCF, Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence, Charlotte County, City of Punta Gorda, United Way, US Department of Justice, FEMA and US Center for Disease Control.

Volunteers are an essential part of the organization. They work on hotlines; assist victims in shelter, hospitals and “justice-centered” settings; promote safe relationships; and help with fundraising.

Background checks are required, and C.A.R.E. provides specialized initial online and in-house training and ongoing training for volunteers who work directly with victims. Indirect service that doesn’t require as much training includes pet “foster care” and assisting with community events. Volunteers are also needed at the

C. A.R.E. Re-Use stores to sort and sell donated items.

“The people of this county and city have embraced us. Their support has been very important,” Hess commented.

The C.A.R.E. Auxiliary Society, a “social, educational and philanthropic group,” was organized in 2003 to further the mission of C.A.R.E. This diverse group is knowledgeable, skilled and creative in advancing C.A.R.E.’s goals and providing support for and raising awareness of their programs. Members attend monthly meetings and plan and host a variety of monthly fundraising events, such as a golf tournament, chef cooking demos, fishing tournaments and an annual luncheon. Dues are $25 per year.

“We have very, very talented people,” Hess commented.

Current C.A.R.E. Board Chairman, Judi Harris, was the Auxiliary President for two years before serving on the board. “The Auxiliary would love to have new volunteers. They’re always growing and evolving,” she said.

Harris’ personal story explains why she is very involved as a volunteer: “In 1973 I had a disastrous first marriage. There was no one to talk to. No place to go. The police were not interested.”

Harris is happy Charlotte County victims have those resources. “I can’t think of a better organization to be involved with. What they do means a great deal to me.

C. A.R.E Ball - celebrating 30 years

On Saturday January 27, 2018, C.A.R.E. will celebrate another milestone – the 30th Annual C.A.R.E. Ball, a fundraising gala coordinated by the Board of Directors. A “Diamonds and Pearls” anniversary celebration will be held at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda, from 6 to 11:30 p. m. The event is open to the public and tickets are available for purchase until January 22 at 501auctions.com/careball2018 or by calling (941) 639-5499. Individual tickets are $135 per person; tables of 10 are discounted to $1,250 until Dec. 31. Dinner, dancing, gaming and an open bar are included in the ticket price. Silent auction items will be available for bidding. John Wright, President of the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, will serve as the evening’s master of ceremonies, and a special anniversary presentation is planned.

Kelly Liscum, chairperson of this year’s C.A.R.E. Ball Committee, said the committee has been “working tirelessly” to make this an extraordinary event. Last year’s event had 600 attendees. They hope to sell 700 tickets for the 2018 “momentous occasion.”

Liscum has been involved with C.A.R.E. for four years and is honored to have been asked to chair the committee of the organization’s largest annual fundraising event. It’s the longest running social/fundraising event in Charlotte County and has been voted “Best Fundraising Gala” in HARBOR STYLE Magazine’s “Harbor’s Hottest” for the past five of six years.

Hess said that C.A.R.E. Ball was the first ever nonprofit gala held in our county. “We had volunteer VIP men models, including long-time resident Bucky McQueen. Four hundred people attended.”

“They haven’t missed a year since the first event,” Liscum said. “After Hurricane Charley they rented land and a tent and featured a circus theme.” Hess added that dinner was catered by the Perfect Caper.

Local businesses, churches, and organizations will have numerous sponsorship opportunities. If interested, they can contact the Sponsorship Chair Monica Luna at (305) 494-2954, Sponsorship Advisor Bobbi Bevis at (941) 815-1176, Board Member Kim Devine at (941) 204-1188 or visit the C.A.R.E. website and navigate to the News & Events menu.

One sponsor, John Mackel from Worksite Employee Leasing, said he is very proud to support C.A.R.E. “They’re one of those great, unique, local organizations that has an immediate direct impact on the community. They do wonderful work.”

“We receive tremendous support from local businesses,” Liscum said. Her company, Smuggler’s Enterprises, has been a sponsor for 10 years.

“One hundred and ten items were donated for last year’s silent auction, including so many fabulous pieces of artwork,” she added. They work closely with Punta Gorda’s Sea Grape Gallery and their artists and hope to have lots of art in the auction this year as well.

“This is going to be a very special evening, and we hope you will join us.”

One Victim's Story

Many victims and families have been helped by C.A.R.E. “Danielle,” her husband and two pre-school children immigrated to Port Charlotte to start a new life. Unfortunately, her husband “John” was an angry alcoholic and physically abusive, but Danielle stayed with Him since she had no financial support or resources to pay for living expenses and she does not speak English.

Following one drinking binge, John took his anger out on Danielle, eventually cutting her on the face with a knife. Their children heard and saw the attack. Danielle went to a local emergency room for treatment. The hospital staff contacted C.A.R.E. and called the police. John was arrested.

Danielle and her children spent six months in the C.A.R.E. shelter. She was then able to find affordable housing, obtain legal residency and get a job providing cleaning services for homes and at the hospital. Her children are now enrolled in school.

Danielle is very grateful for C.A.R.E. assistance that she didn’t know existed. “They helped me a lot. If not for C.A.R.E. I wouldn’t be where I am. I would have stayed in that awful situation and experienced more violence and trauma,” she explained with the help of an interpreter.

Danielle tries to give back to C.A.R.E. for all the help they provided for her. According to the C.A.R.E. staff, she has also been a good advocate for C.A.R.E. to others from her ethnic community.

Additional “success stories” are posted on the C.A.R.E. website.

For more than 30 years, Charlotte County has proudly supported this “home-grown, grassroots” effort to help abuse, rape and violent crime victims and their families achieve support and healing necessary for them to move on.

“We are a wonderful organization. When C.A.R.E. started there were 40,000 people here. Now there are nearly 180,000,” Hess said. “The need has grown. We’ve kept up and never turned anyone away.”

Read the full article at http://trendmag2.trendoffset.com/article/WE+C.A.R.E./2909482/445123/article.html.

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