Original Source: Newport Neighbors Magazine, April 2020
By Ashley Bendiksen
The year was 1977, when a small group of committed women banded together and set up shop in a small office in Newport. Their goal was to provide a centralized location for women to obtain information and support for a diverse number of issues. Often, these were issues where resources were scarce and women had nowhere to turn.
Yet among them all, one issue quickly became the most prominent. There was a clear need to provide support services for those impacted by domestic violence. Soon, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) was born and today, the foundation built by those women still stands – right over on Touro Street.
The WRC is the community’s go-to agency for survivors of domestic violence and their families in both Newport and Bristol Counties. For 43 years, they’ve provided compassionate, comprehensive, direct supports to those in need.
Jessica Walsh, Interim Executive Director and Direction of Prevention, emphasizes just how critical the agency really is. “We are the only organization on the island that specializes in domestic violence prevention and intervention. We work with survivors every day – it is all that we do,” she says.
The need may seem startling at first, but domestic violence exists in every community. It impacts individuals regardless of ethnicity, religion, education, income level, or sexual orientation. And the need exists in Newport today just as much as it did when the agency was founded.
One individual who’s followed this unique history with a frontline view is current Board President, Mary Johnstone. She has served on the agency’s Board of Directors for four years now, however her exposure began much earlier.
“My history with the WRC goes way back to the ‘80s, when I first moved to Newport after college. I was looking for an organization where I could help people and make a difference in the community. Volunteering at the WRC seemed the perfect fit,” Johnstone says.
In those early days, Johnstone says the agency was run by its volunteers. “Volunteers answered the hotline calls, escorted clients to court and were a friendly face for someone walking in looking for help. The staff was small, and counted on the aide of volunteers. It was incredibly satisfying. Sometimes, what seemed like a very small thing I did – sitting with someone, offering Kleenex and kindness, a reassuring voice on the phone – was the first glimmer of hope for healing a victim experienced.”
This ability to provide hope, healing, and empowerment is at the core of the WRC’s work. Their primary goal when working with individuals is to help them build skills, break free, and ultimately, thrive. One recent survivor, whose name will be kept confidential, shared her experience receiving services from the WRC.
“I came here broken, defeated, and could not see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. Upon arriving at the WRC, she was six months pregnant, and says she felt scared, vulnerable, and worthless from her experiences. Today, she says the decision has been life-altering.
“Being a new mother living in a shelter was a hard decision to make, but the staff at the WRC made this one of the best, life-changing experiences. The motivation they have given me and the skills and advice they have provided me, have given me a whole new positive outlook on life. I have grown so much. I have a new love for myself. I feel empowered and have gained the strength to take control of my life. I finally feel like I am finding me again, and that I can do anything.”
These are the stories that WRC hopes to achieve, and it’s why the services they provide are so comprehensive. Walsh explains the complexities of domestic violence. “In addition to the emotional and physical trauma, there are multiple systems involved, there are safety concerns to address. Our advocates know the systems, know the questions to ask, and know the resources available,” she says.
Yet, in addition to guidance and support, the WRC offers so much more. They offer a 24-Hour Helpline, confidential and anonymous support hotline. They serve as a drop-in center Monday through Friday for information and referrals.
For those receiving services, custom, wrap-around support is offered to survivors and their children. This ranges from crisis intervention to emergency shelter, transitional housing, and support with food and basic needs. The emergency shelter houses women and their children, however shelter is also available to men at a different location. Residential clients receive comprehensive supports, like therapy and counseling, life skills, education and employment, financial literacy, and goal setting.
However, the WRC offers individual counseling and group therapy to all affected by domestic violence – not just those living in shelter. Counseling becomes a critical service, helping survivors to build their emotional capacity to leave, maintain a life free from abuse, and to support their children to develop healthy relationships as adults.
For those navigating the court process or in need of a restraining order, there are Law Enforcement Advocates available for support. They assist with paperwork, ensure victims are granted their rights, and are present during all court appearances.
The most remarkable part? All of these are free. Many impacted by domestic violence do not realize that such services exist. This is critical information to know and share.
Still, prevention is always the goal. This is why the WRC works to prevent harm before it occurs. “We have a holistic approach,” Walsh says. “We invest deeply to address the root causes of domestic violence in our communities.”
Taking a community-based approach, the organization engages with key agencies, partners, and local residents. This helps them to work simultaneously to create healthy, safe communities where domestic violence can ultimately be reduced.
“Domestic violence knows no socio-economic barriers. It is a myth to think that it doesn’t happen to people we know, our neighbors and friends,” says Johnstone. This knowledge is one reason she works so tirelessly to serve the WRC. Another reason is simply the success stories happening every day, and the greater vision for tomorrow.
“Serving on the board of the WRC gives me a chance to contribute to the welfare of our community. Our community is stronger and a better place for everyone to live, when we lift up those who are suffering,” she says.
The survivor above is proof of this. “The staff at WRC have set me up for success, with a solid foundation to begin my new life – as a brave, strong, confident, independent, empowered women and mother,” she says.
The services offered by the WRC are life-saving for members of our community. In 2019 alone, the WRC served 1,431 individuals – empowering them to make the transition from victim to survivor, and regain control over their lives.
When asked how the community can help, Walsh mentions a few things, “Financial support is of course always needed. With more resources, we can provide more services – it is as simple as that,” she says. “In addition, knowing who we are and what we do, and talking about our work to family, friends, and neighbors is really important. Most people experiencing domestic violence will disclose to friends or family first. You are likely to know that a person needs our help before we do, and you can support them in reaching out.”
For support, contact the WRC’s 24-Hour Helpline at 1-800-494-8100. To learn more, get involved, or donate, visit www.wrcnbc.org. You can also support the WRC by attending their signature Butterfly Ball gala on Saturday April 25th at the Newport Beach House. Full details in our events calendar.
On behalf of the WRC, thank you to Newport Neighbors Magazine for this recognition! We encourage all to find them online and follow their publication.