With help from friends, woman turns experience with domestic violence into safe haven for victims
Shirley Sims, minister at the First Baptist Church in Paradis, has first-hand experience in living in a home with domestic violence.
“I grew up in a domestic violence family,” Sims said. “My mother was a victim of domestic violence and it has always been a hurting point for me to see women who are being abused by their spouses and don’t have an avenue to get out.”
This year, Sims did something about that.
Sims, along with fellow local ministers Sylvia Diggs, of the Mount Airy Baptist Church in Boutte, and Ivy Williams, of the Historic Bethlehem Baptist Church in Hahnville, banded together to open a safe house for women who are victims of domestic violence in St. Charles Parish.
The house, which opened in September 2009, is in an undisclosed location and is available to anyone who needs it.
“This time of year, with a lot of women experiencing a lot of depression and a lot of pressure, we wanted people to know that it is open and we are operating 24-7,” Diggs said.
Sims said that the house hasn’t been utilized very much since its opening. Only three families have taken advantage of the shelter so far.
The house can shelter three families of a mother and one or two children for anywhere from three to 30 days, depending on the situation.
There is also plenty of food and supplies available, according to Diggs.
“Usually when they’re running, they don’t think about anything,” she said. “Old Navy adopted us and they gave us a lot of personal items that we have to give to the ladies.”
Included in the personal items that Old Navy donated were toiletries, underclothes and two beds.
Local churches also donated a combined $8,000 to the cause. Those churches include the First Baptist Church of Paradis, Mt. Airy of Boutte, Antioch of Des Allemands, St. Matthews of New Sarpy, True Vine of Hahnville, Morning Star of Wallace, and Reverends Rodney Johnson and John White of Bethlehem Baptist Church of Hahnville.
Counseling will also be available to the women who stay at the safe house.
“We’re all ordained ministers, so we have the capability to do some counseling, but we know that some things are beyond our expertise,” Sims said. “We do have volunteer counselors that are on stand-by to jump in at a moment’s notice.”
While Minister Sims was the visionary, Williams and Diggs also helped to make it happen, Diggs said.
“I had experience in working with battered women,” Diggs said. “I worked for 10 years with domestic violence in the New Orleans area, so I know how to write grants and do the paperwork. We were able to do a lot of things without it being a financial burden on us.”
Despite Diggs’ experience in grant writing, she said that many organizations wouldn’t take the chance on funding the project so they went to the churches.
“We turned to the churches, and because we are all affiliated with the churches here in St. Charles Parish, our character and integrity made them willing to take a chance on us,” Diggs said.
Diggs hopes that the home will not only help battered women, but also contribute to the atmosphere of the entire community.
“With us offering a serene place for these women, we feel we can take a bite out of the stress and everything that is on the community from women that are being battered,” Diggs said. “We need people to know that we do exist, we do have a house, we’re strictly confidential and that we are willing to give our services to anyone in need.”
Anyone can stay at the house by calling Sims at 504-431-2254, Diggs at 985-785-9067 or Williams at 985-758-1606.
“I think it’s important that people know we’re strictly volunteers. We’re not being paid,” Diggs said. “This is a mission for us.”
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