Victims Find Strength in the Community’s Supportive Hands.

by | Dec 2023

FRED ROGERS once said, “In times of disaster, I remembered my mother’s words to ‘look for the helpers’ in every situation and was comforted.” The Barren River Area Safe Space (BRASS Inc.) has been a “helper” since 1980. “Citizens formed a committee to address an unmet need affecting our community — to support victims fleeing domestic violence. Our movement has worked around kitchen tables, private homes, and with whispered breaths, forming a grass-roots coalition of concerned citizens ready to believe, support, and empower families in crisis,” said Tori Henninger, executive director.

BRASS offers a 24-hour, judgment-free crisis line, emergency shelter, and food pantry, which are all integral to the safety of victims. “These are only the first stepping stones on a path to safety. We also provide housing assistance ranging from deposit and start-up assistance to long-term assistance. For those who have filed protective orders or live and work in one of our 10 counties, we also provide non-residential services such as court advocacy, where trained advocates accompany and support survivors as they testify against their perpetrators while attempting to secure a protective order. All BRASS programs provide intensive case management opportunities, referrals to community partners and resources, and ongoing support,” said Henninger.

Often, a caller to the crisis line can go into the emergency shelter, and if necessary, the advocate working with the caller can coordinate secure transportation for them. “Many arrive with only the clothes they’re wearing, having escaped while their perpetrator slept, having not eaten in two days because they were denied access to food,” said Cindy Mace, director of grants and operations. “We’ve been able to support and empower them to take control over their own lives. They get a job for the first time, find self-sufficiency, eat when they’re hungry, or throw their child a birthday party for the first time. So many things are stolen from victims of domestic violence, and we walk with those individuals to help them find what they lost.”

BRASS serves the 10-county Barron River Area Development District comprising Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Monroe, Simpson, and Warren counties. The shelter has 31 beds at its primary location, plus they maintain 5-6 rooms in an alternate area to keep up with the mounting needs. Last year, BRASS answered 3,800 crisis calls, provided a listening ear, and connected victims to life-altering resources. Each year, they provide emergency shelter to over 400 clients and sustain about 80 households every month in rental assistance. With a 99% capacity rate at the shelter, they may have 0-1 beds available each night but receive 10 requests. Henninger said, “We are gearing up for a capital campaign to expand shelter by building a new facility. Once we’re ready to go, we will need everyone who can support us to do so. It’s a big project!”

BRASS has several initiatives to raise funds and awareness and to collaborate with others in the community. In February, they will partner with Kroger in Shop and Share, a fundraiser where advocates collect non-perishables to stock the food pantry. In July, Fruit of the Loom will hold a drive to collect back-to-school items for children living in their shelters. During Domestic Violence Month in October, they will sponsor several activities to increase awareness. In December, they will host their annual Hope for the Holidays, a program where community members adopt a child for Christmas. “Bowling Green is rich with community partners, government officials, and citizens who will extend help, services, and support at any time,” said Mace. “It means so much to our survivors to know that they have the support of their community behind them. As an agency, we are humbled each day by the generosity that our neighbors show. Together, we show up to believe, support, and empower survivors every day, and we could not do this work alone.”

Henninger said apparent signs of abuse aren’t always physical and don’t always leave visible marks. “There are other types of abuse, including emotional, psychological, sexual assault, and financial abuse. Domestic violence is rooted in power and control, where the abusive partner wields power and control over their partner. As a community member, the best thing to look for is unexplained changes in behavior from the person you’re concerned about. Are they showing signs of isolation, withdrawing from family, friends, or coworkers, or experiencing mood changes? It’s so important for people to trust their gut. If you think something is going on, it probably is.” GN

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