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WomenSafe seeks help for abuse prevention

MIDDLEBURY — WomenSafe is applying for a combined total of $750,000 in two federal grants to further boost the local fight against sexual abuse and domestic violence.
WomenSafe is partnering with the Addison County State’s attorney’s office in applying for the major grants, the first of which is for up to $350,000 over two years through a U.S. Department Office Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women.
The grant program in question specifically targets efforts to prevent domestic abuse and sexual assault in rural communities, and to help victims of those crimes. In 2008 WomenSafe successfully applied for $495,000 through that same DOJ program. That money has paid for, among other things, five new full and part-time positions, including a full-time coordinator for the Addison County Council against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
The grant has also funded some service positions at WomenSafe and a part-time, deputy prosecutor (Teri Ames) at the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office. Ames focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Services have included advocacy for victims and domestic violence education programs at area schools.
“A lot of great things have happened as a result of that work,” WomenSafe Executive Director Naomi Smith said of the local services provided through the grant, scheduled to expire early this fall. Hoping to extend those services, WomenSafe is applying in this year’s round for the same grant, though the award has been capped at $350,000. The local agency will also probably face greater competition for the funding.
“The lay of the land is a little different this year with the economy the way it is,” Smith said.
 Smith remains hopeful, but said WomenSafe would not be able to keep all of the positions it created two years ago if the grant is not renewed.
“We would have to make a lot of cuts,” she said.
WomenSafe is also applying for a second grant, for up to $400,000 over two years, through the DOJ’s “Community Defined Solutions” program.
This grant would fund, among other things, a part-time domestic abuse investigator at the state’s attorney’s office; “sexual assault nurse examiners” who would assist rape victims; and a legal advocate at WomenSafe to help victims obtain relief from abuse orders. The money would also help sustain the positions created in 2008 and bolster the county’s domestic abuse education program, according to Smith.
WomenSafe will submit the grant applications this week, and expects to receive word on the requests by this September. The town of Middlebury has already agreed to administer the grant if it is forthcoming.
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster is also hopeful the grants will come through. He said the extra resources from the 2008 grant have paid good dividends at the county state’s attorney’s office through the efforts of deputy prosecutor Ames.
In other grant-related news at WomenSafe, the organization is organizing a housing assistance program made possible by a three-year, $250,000 federal grant received last fall. WomenSafe is in the process of hiring a housing advocate to develop a program through which victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse will be given financial help in finding new housing and/or education services to get back on their feet.
“We are still working out the details,” Smith said. “We hope to get the program started before the end of March.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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