Chamber non-profit of the year finalist
By Dirk Webb
Photo by Dale Pickett
Mary Jo Lee, CEO
PO Box 1302 Anderson, IN 46015
Founded in 1978 by seven women who were members of the Anderson Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Alternatives was one of the earliest domestic violence shelters in the state of Indiana. The initial services were a crisis line and support for victims. Frisch's served as the location where volunteer advocates met with victims. The shelter program opened in January 1981 with support from the City of Anderson during the administration of Mayor Tom McMahan. Today, there are 29 Indiana domestic violence shelters to serve the 92 counties. Alternatives provides shelter for victims from the counties of Hamilton, Hancock, Henry, Madison, Marion and Tipton.
What are your primary programs? “We provide emergency shelter for female and male victims of domestic violence and their dependent children. We have 30 emergency beds and five units of longer term transitional housing. We are also a certified rape crisis center and provide 24/7 response for sexual assault victims. In collaboration with Community Hospital Anderson, we have the Madison County Sexual Assault Treatment Center. Additional services include, a 24/7 toll-free crisis hotline; an in-shelter weekday preschool; an afterschool and summer program for elementary children; 24/7 crisis response for domestic violence victims; a dating violence prevention program provided in middle and high school classrooms; and domestic violence/sexual abuse training for employers; law enforcement; healthcare workers; and fire fighters. We have offices in Greenfield, Elwood, Tipton and Fishers. In partnership with Ricker Oil Company, we provide Safe Havens in their convenience stores where victims can call for help.”
Why here in Madison County? “We have continued to keep our base program in Madison County because, although the need is high in this community, it is a community with caring individuals and businesses who are willing to support families in crisis. Madison County is a community where collaborative efforts are encouraged and successful--a factor not always present in communities.”
What are your goals for 2015? “Alternatives operates with a three-year strategic plan developed by the Board of Trustees and management team. Two major goals in the plan are to develop more relationships with businesses in order for them to understand how to recognize and respond to domestic violence. OSHA requirements consider domestic violence a workplace hazard. The other goal is to secure funding for our children's services. Domestic violence is most often an intergenerational cycle. The cycle can be broken by teaching children non-violent behaviors. In 2014, we lost a major grant for children's services as a result of federal funding reductions so raising the funding is critical.”
Why are you in this business? “The Centers for Disease Control research indicates one in four families are affected by domestic violence. It is a daunting challenge to end the crime of domestic violence. Alternatives has dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters who believe we are making a difference. From a personal standpoint, I’ve seen firsthand the lifelong effects of violence and abuse on the individual. My husband, Gary, experienced personally the devastation that domestic violence can bring. To his everlasting credit, Gary ended the cycle of abuse by becoming one of the most engaged and loving fathers you could ever hope to see.”
Who do you consider the most courageous person in history and why? “I could name many women in history who worked for equality for all persons; however, I have a local woman whose courage I admired--Elizabeth Howard McMahan. "Liz", as she was fondly known, was the wife of Tom McMahan, a very respected and successful Madison County businessman and former Mayor. Liz identified "causes" where she contributed her time, talents and treasures. She often faced resistance and ridicule because her "causes" were not considered popular societal issues. Two of her major "causes" were mental health and domestic violence. In the 1970's domestic violence was considered a "family matter" that should be kept within the family boundaries. Liz joined Alternatives' Board of Trustees and put all of her passion and forces behind the mission. As the First Lady of Anderson, she convinced her husband Tom a shelter was needed and the City should take responsibility. She rallied her friends to speak out! Liz is still missed by many in this community. Often on stressful days at the agency and shelter, I take a moment to remember Liz's motto---Function in Crisis, Finish in Style! Those words give me courage to make it through a situation. I very much wish Liz could see the growth of the agency. I would especially want her to see our programs for children.”
What was the defining moment when you knew Alternatives was making a difference? “During the last six months, we have actually had two major defining moments. The first came when we were one of 131 U. S. domestic violence programs honored by Vice President Joe Biden. The recognition was a component of the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. Our collaborative program with Ricker's (Safe Havens for victims) was considered innovative and very unique. We have since been receiving inquiries from domestic violence programs throughout the nation requesting information about the program. The second came from a posting placed on our Facebook. The posting read, "Thank you for helping my mom back in 1990 when my father was abusing our family! I'm 29 now, have children of my own and happily married. Just wanted to say thank you!! Receiving a message such as this is most definitely a defining moment because we helped ‘break the intergenerational cycle.’”
> Winner of the Non-Profit, and other award categories, will be revealed the night of the 2015 Annual Awards Gala.