“We have seen a dramatic reduction in crime in Prince George’s County over the last decade, but some of the most horrific violent crimes that have occurred in recent years stem from domestic violence,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III.
That is why in March 2017 the County Executive established the Domestic Violence Community Assistance Grant Fund to assist nonprofit organizations who are working on the front line to protect women and men from domestic violence.
“The effects of domestic violence are deep and long lasting,” said Jackie Rhone, Division Manager of the Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Division of the County’s Department of Family Services. “When we know better we do better; through education, prevention and partnership we can end the cycle of abuse.”
Since its creation, the division has been working to address domestic violence in multiple ways – from education and prevention to direct services for survivors. For instance, says Rhone, her office implemented an evidence-based curriculum called “Safe Dates” that has been used in County middle schools, sponsored a series of men’s conferences on domestic violence and developed a partnership with House of Ruth Maryland and other nonprofits in the County.
The County’s Domestic Violence Community Assistance Fund was established at the Greater Washington Community Foundation with an initial contribution of $250,000 to provide annual grants and capacity building support to nonprofits to support enhanced services for individuals and families directly affected by domestic violence. The goal is to help families achieve a greater level of independence, strengthen families’ ability to cope with healing, and rebuild the family unit by helping to remove challenges to gaining self-sufficiency – such as providing legal services, counseling services, support groups, employment, training and housing.
“We are passionate about our work, but we quickly realized government can’t do this work alone,” said Elana Belon-Butler, Director of the Department of Family Services. “That’s why we collaborate with others such as the Greater Washington Community Foundation. The Community Foundation is a great partner because of their knowledge of both domestic violence and of our community needs. They also share our sense of urgency, accountability, follow through and reporting. These are things that can’t be minimalized.”
In 2017, some of the critical services that the Domestic Violence Community Assistance Fund supported included: public awareness campaigns that targeted certain areas heavily impacted by domestic violence; services to individuals and families directly affected by domestic violence; legal issues (protective orders), counseling and family services; emergency and basic needs to survivors as well as other kinds of wraparound supports. In 2018, the Domestic Violence Community Assistance Fund will include support for survivors of human trafficking.
“Domestic violence can affect anyone – regardless of income, background or location,” says CAFY CEO Arleen Joell, who received a grant in the amount of $75,000 from the fund.
Community Advocates for Family & Youth (CAFY) supports victims of crimes in Prince George’s County – from those affected by breaking and entering crimes to family members who have lost a loved one to homicide. But the largest percentage of their clients – 52 percent – are victims of domestic violence. Those clients face multiple challenges. Thanks to the Domestic Violence Community Assistance Fund, nonprofits like CAFY are increasingly able to address those challenges with wraparound services such as legal and mental health services, security deposits, first month’s rent and transportation assistance.
For instance, CAFY recently helped a client who had a protective order and was in the process of moving to another city by putting her up in a hotel for several nights, paying to store her worldly possessions until she found a new job and place to live, and covering the cost of a U-Haul when she was ready to relocate. When another woman with a protective order needed her locks changed, CAFY took care of that critical need for her. They also provided legal counsel, so she could file for child custody and begin divorce proceedings. The client would not have been able to afford these costs on her own.
Desiree Griffin-Moore, Executive Director of The Community Foundation in Prince George’s County, points out that this is not the first time the Community Foundation has partnered with the County. The Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative Fund was established at The Community Foundation in 2014 by The Office of the Prince George's County Executive and Prince George’s County Public Schools to support community-based organizations providing quality free and/or affordable out-of-school time programming for youth and families. “We have a longstanding relationship with the County which has always valued our transparent, equitable process and our knowledge of the community,” she said.
Adds Jackie Rhone: “The work is easier when we don’t have to educate someone about the County and its demographics.”
“This is hands down one of the best partnerships Prince George’s County government has entered into,” adds Belon-Butler.