YWCA Cortland’s Noblest Service: Aid to Victims of Violence
By Stephen B. Wilson, YWCA Community Relations Committee Member
On Friday, October 4, I walked with 124 other people along a sinuous line past 30 stations filled with sumptuous gourmet delights. Fortified by free glasses of wine and beer, we sampled such delicacies as Smoked Duck Crostini, Asian Braised Pork Belly Lettuce Cup, Stuffed Clams, Crawfish Monica (my personal favorite), Pork Vindaloo with Jeera Rice, and last but hardly least, Pumpkin-Filled Chocolate Cake. The stations were manned by such notable local “chefs” as Mayor Brian Tobin, District Attorney Patrick Perfetti, Homer Mayor Hal McCabe, local businessmen Bob Haight, Forrest Earl, and James Hopkins, among many others.
The occasion? It was the second annual “Chefs Take a Stand: Men Against Domestic Violence” to benefit the YWCA Cortland’s Aid to Victims of Violence (AVV).
What, you say? You haven’t heard of such a program in Cortland? Well, read on.
AVV resides in a secure area of the main YWCA facility. It assists women and men subjected to domestic violence by offering: a 24-hour crisis hotline (607-756-6363), accompaniment out of confrontational or dangerous situations, assistance for crime victims, crisis intervention, an off-premises domestic violence shelter, or Safe House capable of housing four families at once, and support groups and counseling. While receiving services from AVV, clients may choose to receive education regarding bystander intervention, healthy relationships, understanding consent, aspects of rape culture, and sexual harassment.
Jessica Smith, the Senior Case Advocate for this nonprofit, runs the day-to-day activities of AVV. She tells me that the program began in the 1970s and was known then as Aid to Women Victims of Violence. Says Ms. Smith, “It started with volunteer women housing victims in their own homes. They teamed together and started this, paying whatever expenses they incurred out of their own pockets.”
Fast forward to the present: AVV now has a paid staff of eight people, six women and two men, who constantly interact with the staggering number of clients they serve. There are also volunteers and interns who supplement the staff, helping in a variety of ways both at the facility and in the field. As Senior Case Advocate, Ms. Smith consults with the staff to determine how each client’s needs can best be met. She coordinates admissions into either the Safe Dwelling or alternate emergency housing. She also manages the spending of the limited funds provided to AVV by grants and donations.
When I asked Jessica to explain the subject of the Order of Protection, she responded, “Often when victims call law enforcement…the officers will say that they’re going to have to arrest both people…So most of the time charges are not pressed. The victims end up calling us and we help them with a Family Offense Petition. We have a unique opportunity in Cortland County to write and draft Orders of Protection and to e-file them with Family Court. The judge makes a decision and returns the signed Order to us, which we then share with the client. This saves the client from having to go to the courthouse.”
Because I was ignorant of the magnitude of the problem of domestic violence in Cortland County, I asked Ms. Smith to summarize the statistics as to the numbers of cases the AVV has handled. Her response left me stunned. In 2018 alone, AVV responded to 3,250 calls for help. Of these, 2,239 were for domestic violence, 172 for rape, 168 for child sexual assault, 205 for child physical assault, and 466 for “other” crimes. Fifty-two percent of these assault victims were 25 to 59 years of age. Surprisingly, 15% of victims have been men, assaulted or harassed by women.
Carrying the burden of maintaining services for these thousands of victims would be nearly impossible without the dedicated assistance of the many unpaid volunteers and interns who donate their time and experience to this noble cause. The interns are usually college students from SUNY Cortland or TC3 who may have the goal of becoming professionals in this field. Before beginning their contact with clients, they undergo 40 hours of training: 20 hours completing an on-line course and 20 hours of one-on-one individual training with staff members. These young people assist staff at the AVV secure facility at the main campus of the YWCA. They familiarize themselves with the case histories of the clients, and then, with their permission, join a staff member as part of the counseling session.
The volunteers tend to be older adults who assist clients about to leave the Safe House by offering advice on securing employment and locating safe and affordable housing. They can often create lasting friendships.
Linda Glover, the Program Director of AVV, explained the reason for the recent shortfall of funding for this unique service. She said, “AVV is a grant-funded program. We are at the mercy of grants and donations to survive, and when there are cuts at the state and federal level, we have to get creative with the budget,” Those wishing to donate any amount can call the YWCA office at 607-753-9651or email Jessica at email@example.com. Robyn Hayes, Director of Development, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made anonymously, and receipts will be given for tax purposes. Additionally, a full list of needed daily items can be found at the front desk at the YW at 14 Clayton Ave., and among these are toiletry items (soap, shampoo, lotions), feminine hygiene products, socks and underwear, microwavable foods, and towels. Furniture would be especially appreciated because when clients move out of the Safe Dwelling, they often have no furnishings for their new residencies.
This article was inspired as an observance of October as “National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”