Two residents find opportunity to make a difference

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2005

For the majority of residents, the Christmas season is one of great joy, the hope of great gifts &8212; both given and received but most of all, a time of family.

Unfortunately, for some women and children in Shelby County, home is neither loving nor safe. Instead, home can be a traffic jam of fear and disappointment every day. The statistics can be shocking:

uDomestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the U.S. (more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined).

uAt least three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the country every day.

uOne in six women will experience some type of sexual assault in her lifetime.

uChild abuse occurs in 30 to 60 percent of family violence cases involving families with children.

uAn estimated 3.3 million children witness violence against their mothers by other family members each year.

These national statistics apply right here in Shelby County as well:

uThe average age of victims of domestic violence in Alabama was 22.7, ranging in age from 2 to 88.

uThe average age of offenders is 28.3 years, with an age range of 10-77.

uIn 2004, 12 percent of all homicides in Alabama were domestic-related.

uThere were 1,665 rapes reported in Alabama last year &8212; an average of 4.6 per day, a 7 percent increase over 2003.

uThe Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and local municipalities reported 38 rapes in 2004.

According to the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is physical, mental, sexual or emotional abuse in an intimate relationship. It occurs when one person uses abusive tactics to gain power and control over a partner or former partner. Domestic violence includes a wide range of abuse such as physical assaults, sexual assaults, psychological abuse, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, manipulation of children, economic control and destruction of property or pets.

Domestic violence is a problem that affects every community in Shelby County. It crosses all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, all races and all religious groups.

But one Shelby County organization is there to help.

SafeHouse is a multi-services organization which provides, among other things, confidential shelter and safety to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Trained professionals provide crisis response to rape victims, including hospital accompaniment and advocacy with medical and law enforcement personnel.

SafeHouse began its mission &8220;to empower survivors of domestics violence and sexual assault by breaking the cycle of violence and preventing future incidents of abuse through the provision of shelter, education and support services throughout the community&8221; in 1989 when developer Sherman Holland donated a house for its use in the Pelham area.

The need for shelter for abused women and children soon outgrew that location, however, and in 1991, the organization purchased the current site. In 1995, as women learned of SafeHouse and the safety offered there, space again became an issue and the organization began construction to expand that facility to the present-day 26-bed shelter.

In 2004, SafeHouse received 978 crisis calls and provided 4,880 nights of safe shelter to 135 victims. Forty-eight percent of those sheltered were children from homes where domestic violence occurred. Of this group, 73.9 percent were under the age of 9.

Those receiving shelter, support and educational services during 2004 totaled 23,873, according to information provided by SafeHouse officials.

SafeHouse accomplishes its mission primarily through the work of a dedicated group of volunteers and contributions from Shelby County residents.

Two residents have recently stepped in to make life better for those in the direct path of domestic violence.

The local jewelry designer and gifted singer/songwriter tell interesting stories of how they became involved.

Singer/songwriter David Graves came to a turning point in his life not long ago.

His career was not moving in the direction he wanted and his attempt at controlling his own destiny was slipping from his grasp. Graves’ feelings of desperation became all consuming until.

&8220;Those who loved, supported and prayed for me encouraged me to seek help,&8221; Graves said. &8220;I came to realize that my life was unmanageable and that without God’s divine intervention, I would be heading down a long, dark path of destruction.&8221;

Following a friend’s advice, Graves enrolled in OnSite, a facility in Nashville, Tenn., which provides therapeutic workshops in a retreat setting. Graves calles OnSite, &8220;the place that hope was reborn within me.&8221;

During that week of retreat, David and other seekers spent time in individual and group therapy. It was during one of these sessions that he met a young single mother who had been battered and abused by her ex-husband.

At the final group session of the week, the woman was given the opportunity to tell one thing that the week at OnSite had taught her.

She said simply: &8220;I have a voice.&8221;

Graves, who had learned that it was &8220;time for my heart to sing&8221; was instantly inspired.

He immediately took out a pen and wrote the chorus: &8220;I

have a voice, she whispered. I have a choice, she prayed. There is a God with mercy, I don’t have to stay.&8221;

When the meeting was finished, he went to the piano and finished the song. Graves said it was if the song was there all the time and God had just unlocked the door for him to find it. He promised the woman he would record the song, get her approval of the finished project, then wait and see what happened. He kept his promise.

Graves soon became aware that SafeHouse of Shelby County, a shelter for battered and abused women, was located within 10 minutes of his home, and he knew he had found the purpose for his song.

He met with the SafeHouse staff, sharing the song with them and telling the story of how it came about.

Graves said he believed God not only wanted their clients to be encouraged by the message, but he also believed he was to contribute part of the proceeds from the sale of the project to the shelter.

Susan Hawkins, executive director at SafeHouse, said she and her staff was moved by Graves’ honesty and humility. When the meeting was over, Hawkins presented him with a Breaking Free Dove Pendant.

The pendant represents the efforts of another volunteer, jewelry designer, artist and Helena store owner Lora Lunsford-Popwell. Lunsford-Popwell owns The Bead Biz in Old Towne Helena.

Lunsford-Popwell represents a statistic of domestic abuse. With a degree in fashion merchandising, she began making and selling jewelry from her home. Then, in 2002, she opened The Bead Biz.

She knew of SafeHouse and because of her own background, had done volunteer work there for about five years.

Each year, for the Buck Creek Festival Lunsford-Popwell asks a jewelry designer to create a special piece of jewelry the store can sell just for that event with all proceeds going to SafeHouse. This year there was a mix-up and the artist’s piece was not ready. When that problem arose, she began to pray and one morning while showering, she said, the entire design &8212; in detail, just came to her.

She called the piece the &8220;Breaking Free Dove Pendant.&8221; She prepared and wore the prototype and began to tell her story to anyone who would listen.

Soon, donations of money and raw materials were coming from the most unexpected places. One supplier donated hand-dyed silk ribbon for the pendant to hang from; another, a large quantity of Art Clay Silver.

The prototype meant so much to her. It was her personal breaking free pendant that symbolized her own hope for the future. Eventually, however, she sold the prototype to Nancy Downes, mother of American Idol runner-up Bo Bice, formerly of Helena.

Volunteers such as Lunsford-Popwell and Graves are always needed at SafeHouse. To help in the work of SafeHouse through contributions or by volunteering

time, call 664-5930.

SafeHouse is also collecting Wal-Mart gift cards for women and children victims of domestic violence and abuse to purchase gifts for one another.

Learn more about SafeHouse at Order the &8220;Breaking Free Dove Pendant&8221; as well as David Graves’ CD on the website as well. Graves CD can also be ordered at