Unbelievably, in as late as 1983, no services were available to victims of domestic violence in rural Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Domestic violence was popularly believed to be something that happened elsewhere, particularly in more urban areas.
In November of 1983 a group of individuals who had become aware of the prevalence of domestic violence within Schuylkill County formed the Schuylkill County Task Force on Abused Women, later to be called Schuylkill Women in Crisis (SWiC). These individuals had been sensitized to the problem from either their personal or professional experience and were committed to working together to assist victims of domestic violence, to expose its roots in our society, and ultimately to end the devastation it inflicts.
The group immediately began operation of its 24-hour hotline as a means for victims to receive supportive crisis counseling, information and referral regarding options available to them, and a way of addressing their isolation.
Hotline volunteers had no idea what they would encounter, while they knew that domestic violence occurred in Schuylkill County, they had no idea how prevalent the problem would prove to be. In its first year of operations, the program received almost 300 incoming hotline calls – a significant number considering the group’s infancy and lack of advertising. After documenting the need for services, the group was successful in gaining state funding and United Way support in July 1985. This funding enabled the program to obtain an office and hire staff. SWiC has continued to rely heavily on its volunteer component through the years to meet ever-growing service demands.
The group struggled to provide adequate shelter services. In the fall of 1988, the Christ Lutheran Church in Schuylkill Haven (at location of current Jerusalem Lutheran Church), approached SWiC offering the use of their parsonage as a shelter site, enabling the program to initiate shelter services. In May 1989, the facility was opened as a 14-bed shelter.
Within six weeks after shelter opening, the insufficient size of the site became apparent, with 22 residents squeezed into the building. Not only was the site too small, but the quality of services was inherently limited because of the physical limitations of the building, e.g., five staff people jammed into a 13-foot by 20-foot office, lack of privacy for residents and/or staff to discuss personal and confidential matters, inadequate space to accommodate volunteer support, and the natural conflicts which can arise from too many people in too small a space. However, because operating expenses had increased so dramatically, nearly doubling with transition to shelter, the group decided to manage as best it could.
In the fall of 1990, the church informed SWiC that they may again need the building as a parsonage. Because the program was by now providing nearly 4,000 shelter days/year to almost 350 residents/year, and because the ability to provide this service could literally mean the difference between life and death, a shelter committee was formed to locate a new site.
Within six months, the shelter committee recommended that the Board of Directors purchase an 8,500-square-foot building located in Pottsville, the only city in the county and the county seat, easily accessible to those services battered women must utilize in order to gain safety and independence. Constructed in 1909, the building had been vacant for many years and, although structurally sound, was in need of extensive repair to prepare it for its new use. The Board acted upon the recommendation of the shelter committee and purchased the building in June 1991.
Plans were immediately made for a 1992 capital campaign to pay for, renovate, and equip the new site. A campaign goal of $425,000 was established. The campaign was very successful with even the agency amazed at the outpouring of community support to assist victims of domestic violence. The campaign exceeded its goals, raising $481,000. After a second successful capital campaign in 2008 and a $2 million expansion and addition completed in 2010, the building is able to house up to 32 residents.
Today, with community support, SWiC’s comprehensive services include 24-hour hotline; information and referral; accompaniment to courts and hospitals; empowerment and trauma-informed counseling; lethality assessment and safety planning; emergency shelter; longer-term housing; assistance filing emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders via videoconferencing; individual and systems advocacy; relocation assistance; limited food and transportation assistance; children’s counseling; volunteer training; and community awareness/ prevention activities and in-service training for other service professionals. All services are free and confidential, with the exception of longer-term housing, which charges rent on a sliding scale fee.
SWiC presently provides services to 1,200 victims annually; answers 1,400 hotline calls; provides more than 6,000 hours of counseling to victims and their families; and provides more than 6,000 shelter days and more than 2,000 longer-term housing days.
We are proud of our past accomplishments and are excited by future prospects. We recognize that the problem of domestic violence is too big for any one person, agency, or system to address single-handedly. By adopting a community-wide response to domestic violence, we can make great strides in ensuring that the basic unit of our society, the family, is the safe haven we all want it to be.
Jane Cook (Secretary)
David O’Leary (Chair)
Jackie Pellish Hughes (Treasurer)
Rochelle Quiggle (Vice Chair)
Rev. Vicki Reeser
Mary Diffenderfer, Honorary
Joseph Schlitzer, Honorary
Paul Datte, Esquire
Raymond C. Dee
Commissioner George F. Halcovage
Joseph “Jay” Jones, Jr., Esquire
Dr. Anita Kozlowski
Noble C. Quandel
Barbara McLaughlin Weiss
Helen “Wendi” J. Wheeler, Esquire