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WISE Will Use Grant to Expand



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2017

Windsor — The Upper Valley nonprofit WISE is using a three-year, $490,000 federal grant to open an office in Windsor and expand and strengthen support services for victims of domestic and sexual violence in Windsor County.

WISE, or Women’s Information Service, recently announced it was the recipient of a U.S. Department of Justice grant aimed at enhancing the safety of rural victims of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking, WISE Executive Director Peggy O’Neil said on Thursday.

The Lebanon-based nonprofit will use the grant to offer a wider array of support services specifically to victims in Windsor, West Windsor, Weathersfield and Reading, which are four towns it adopted in 2014 when the women’s support organization New Beginnings closed in Springfield, Vt.

“The rural grant is giving the Windsor-area community and WISE new resources to do new and different work,” O’Neil said. “We want to be more accessible and we want to be engaging with as many people in the community as possible.”

The grant will allow for the creation of a multidisciplinary team, which includes several Upper Valley agencies and partners, that will collaborate to best address domestic and sexual violence in the target areas and beyond.

That team, which includes representation from Mt. Ascutney Hospital, the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Windsor County Special Investigation Unit/Child Advocacy Center, the Good Neighbor Health Clinics, the Upper Valley Haven, the Listen Center, the All Nationalities Network in the Upper Valley and others have already started a dialogue through the grant writing process.

The grant will fund a WISE satellite “support office” in downtown Windsor where two staff members will hold office hours. Those staff members, one of whom will be a rural advocacy coordinator, also will work out of the Good Neighbor Health Clinics and the Haven.

“The most important outcome of this project is to establish services to this rural area so that victims are safe and supported,” O’Neil said in a news release on Thursday announcing the grant. “It will create an environment that will allow victims of sexual assault and domestic and dating violence to feel greater support and confidence to come forward with their victimization.”

Another goal of the grant is to build a capacity to support youth who are victims of dating violence or sexual assault, as well as determine and assess the needs of immigrant victims, O’Neil said. WISE also hopes to strengthen a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program that was once robust at Mt. Ascutney Hospital.

The grant is a product of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. The funding, which totals $490,382, will be disbursed over three years.

The rural piece of the project is key.

“Victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking in rural communities face unique challenges and barriers to receiving assistance rarely encountered in urban areas,” according to the grant program’s language. “The geographic isolation, transportation barriers, economic structure, particularly strong social and cultural pressures and lack of available services in rural jurisdictions significantly compound the problems confronted by those seeking support and services to end the violence in their lives.”

When the grant money dries up, O’Neil said her agency would likely seek a continuation grant and work on a sustainability plan.

The trauma of domestic violence was brought home to many Windsor residents in June 2015 when Molly Helland, a 2010 Windsor High graduate, was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend while leaving her parents’ house in downtown Windsor.

Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill, who is a member on the multidisciplinary team, said he was “elated” to hear that WISE received the grant. The agency applied in the past but wasn’t awarded it.

“They do valuable work for our community and there had been a substantial hole in coverage in central and southern Windsor County,” Cahill said. “This will allow them to expand and fill that void.”

He was referring to when New Beginnings closed more than four years ago, leaving little-to-no coverage in those parts of the counties. However, WISE in 2014 took over interim services. Now, the agency intends to be a partner for the long-term.

Cahill commended the work of Upper Valley support agencies.

“No one single support will work in a vacuum,” he said. “Prosecution isn’t going to work if the victim has no place to go ... but to live with the offender. We all rely on other team members to achieve the common goal.”

Jill Lord, the director of Patient Care Services and the chief nursing officer at Mt. Ascutney Hospital, is also on the team and said she was “thrilled” to hear WISE was the recipient.

“They have been stretched in their resources,” Lord said. “I think this will allow them to expand in a meaningful way and we are excited to work with them.”

When New Beginnings went out, she said in some respects the area was “like a desert” when it came to resources.

The Turning Points Network, a similar social services agency in Sullivan County, doesn’t cover Windsor County.

“It was like you can see help but the access wasn’t easy,” Lord said. “We are really hoping that we can help people before they get into crisis, when they are grappling with the issues related to domestic violence. We hope to be able to intervene at an earlier stage.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.