GEORGETOWN, SC (WMBF) — The Family Justice Center of Georgetown County celebrated its one year anniversary this month. The nonprofit opened its safe house for victims of domestic violence in April 2013.
The center is expanding its services again, as it assists more clients in Georgetown County and prepares to begin making inroads into Horry County, according to a press release.
"Last year was a year of rapid growth for us, not only in the numbers of clients and children that came through our door for help, but in the services that we were able to offer," said Beverly Kennedy, a co-director at the center. Vicki Bourus serves as co-director, also.
The center served 659 clients in 2013 and anticipates the number of clients served for 2014 to exceed to 750, as the center's reputation and scope of services continues to grow.
In addition to opening the safe house last year, the center offered a summer camp program for 22 children. This was made possible through donations. Children participated in 10 weeks of day camp sessions at the Georgetown YMCA.
The center also expanded counseling services, secured funding to bring a dating violence awareness program for teens into all four Georgetown County high schools, and instituted a 24-hour crisis hotline. These were all requirements to open the safe house.
Directors said opening the safe house remains the center's biggest accomplishment for the year.
"It took some faith and a lot of work to make sure the center would have the funding and the staff to be able to operate the safe house long term," Kennedy and Bourus agreed.
The safe house has 11 beds and three bedrooms, with a capacity about 80 percent of the time.
The center is already facing a need for a larger safe house.
"Initially we weren't sure if we'd be able to do it, but we took that leap and it was clearly the right thing to do not only for residents of Georgetown County, but for any victim of domestic violence who has called the crisis hotline," Kennedy said. "If we had made a different decision, I don't know where those people would have gone for help."
Additional staff was hired when the center and the crisis line opened, but existing staff also had to step up to help take on extra duties created by those new initiatives.
They're preparing to step up again due to growth.
The center's board of directors agreed last month to begin introducing services in Horry County, as requested by the Department of Social Services, according to the press release.
While expansion into Horry County was approved —with the timing and extent of services to be determined by the co-directors —it was specified the effort must not take the center outside the scope of its current budget and staffing.
Plans are to initially put staff in Horry County one day a week through the end of this year.
"We're going to do this slowly and carefully," Kennedy said. "We have to be careful not to burnout our staff and we certainly don't want current services in Georgetown County to be compromised."
Kennedy and Bourus have begun investigating potential funding sources in Horry County and continued public awareness efforts in both counties, in an effort make sure victims know they have a place to go for help and increase community support.
For more information about the Family Justice Center, call (843) 546-3926 or visit www.fjcgeorgetown.org.