Safety, Shelter and Second Chances

By Bradley Osburn

1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence or intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according national statistics, which also say that only 1 in 10 file a report, and only 1 in 7 seek service. In Alachua, Bradford and Union Counties, women seeking help can turn to Peaceful Paths for safety and shelter.

Peaceful Paths has been around since 1974 as one of the first domestic violence nonprofits in Florida, and used to be called the Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center (SPARC). In October 2000 the nonprofit’s board of directors, in a cultural overhaul, changed the name to Peaceful Paths, which came from a staff member.

On average, according to Paths Executive Director Theresa Beachy, Ph.D., the nonprofit sees about 1,500 victims face to face and provides 20,000 services annually, which she said barely scratches the surface of the need. It employs 25 people and has a budget of $1.3 million made up of grants and donations.

Paths mission is to provide safety, support and self-sufficiency to victims of domestic violence and to help prevent future violence through financial and counseling programs.

“We empower women to make better choices,” Beachy said. “Not tell them what to do, but give them choices.”

“Victims come to us when they realize that the survival tactics they were using aren’t working anymore,” Beachy said. “Some try to handle emotional abuse, but the first time it gets physical they leave. But while bruises heal, the abusive tape in their head won’t shut off.”

“And it’s amazing how a little bit of information can change someone’s perspective. One of the most important things we tell them is that it’s not their fault. We can change the paradigm and the message they’re getting. This happens to a lot of women and the whole point of abuse is to exert power.”

Paths offers a 24-hour help line and takes referrals from churches, child welfare services, friends and family of victims, and law enforcement.

One of the shelter’s most effective programs, she said, is a 12-week  economic empowerment and financial literacy program — with financial partners like Capital City Bank and Bank of America — which gives women the opportunity to learn about how to handle money. They also employ a money-matching savings program up to $1,500 and help women save their credit, which Beachy said is one of the most destructive things batterers can affect by running up credit cards or putting cards or purchases in the victim’s name.

As a self-sustaining credit agency, Paths also employs a micro-lending program so that victims don’t have to dip into what is often meager savings to do things like fix a broken car. This program is just another that helps them break the cycle of poverty and work on self-sufficiency, Beachy said. To that end, Paths also partners with Santa Fe College for training in job searches and interview technique.

In February 2009 Peaceful Paths lost their outreach office in a fire, but Beachey said that the accident was one of the best things to ever happen to the program. With $1 million in donor money and $3 million in government grants, the nonprofit has purchased 16 acres adjacent to their center in order to build a housing campus that will feature a 40-bed emergency shelter and apartments with 35 beds for supportive housing.

The groundbreaking is planned for 2014, which is also Paths’ 40th anniversary year.  They also plan to introduce new programs and hold the Guest Chef Fundraiser, an enormous potluck, on March 13.

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