WomenSafe seeking new digs; nonprofit working on fundraising drive to expand offerings

MIDDLEBURY — WomenSafe, a Middlebury-based nonprofit that helps area victims of domestic abuse, is in the middle of a $1.2 million fund drive to purchase and fix its new headquarters, create two transitional apartments for clients and expand its acclaimed violence-prevention programs throughout Addison County schools.
It is the most ambitious fundraising effort in the 32-year history of WomenSafe, incorporated in 1982 as the Addison County Battered Women’s Project. The organization was known as “Women In Crisis” before adopting its current moniker in 2001.
Kerri Duquette-Hoffman, executive director of WomenSafe, noted the current fund drive has been in a “silent phase” for the past few years. During that time, specially targeted supporters have given a combined total of more than $500,000 to the capital project. One anonymous donor has pledged $100,000; a few others have pledged five-figure contributions to go along with smaller gifts. No donation is too small, officials stressed.
The early success of the campaign has been very gratifying for Duquette-Hoffman and the WomenSafe board, headed by Amy Mason.
“People are realizing this is a really special time in the history of this organization, and this is a life changing opportunity for people,” Mason said during a recent interview. “It is a chance for our organization to really step it up to the next level and be able to answer the call the community gave us, which was to do more. People who have been supporting our annual fund generously over the years acknowledged it was time to be part of this opportunity to make a transformational gift.”
With almost half of the $1.2 million in hand, WomenSafe made its fund drive public earlier this week. It officially kicked off at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater on Sunday, Oct. 1, with an event called “I RISE,” described by organizers as a “multi-layered program of literary and performance art inspired by, and in service to people impacted by domestic and sexual violence.” Proceeds from the event, including a silent auction of an original Rebecca Kinkead work of art, benefitted the WomenSafe campaign.
Here are the three specific causes to which WomenSafe will put the $1.2 million to use:
•  Purchase and renovation of its new headquarters.
WomenSafe leaders understandably don’t want to broadcast the address of its headquarters and other assets, for security reasons. But it’s safe to say the organization, staff and volunteers had outgrown their longtime Middlebury village location. Among other things, it did not have enough space for victims of domestic violence to be interviewed in total privacy by staff, according to Duquette-Hoffman.   KERRI DUQUETTE-HOFFMAN, left, executive director of WomenSafe, and Amy Mason, chair of the WomenSafe board, stand in the organization’s new headquarters. WomenSafe is in the middle of a $1.2 million fund drive to purchase and renovate the new headquarters, create two transitional apartments for clients and expand programs.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Fortunately, the owners of an adjacent property said they would be willing to sell to WomenSafe at a reduced price. Organization officials said “yes,” and WomenSafe is now occupying the more spacious quarters. The new location provides ample office space, discreet meeting venues and even a separate playroom for children or parent-clients.
Estimated cost of this project: Around $350,000.
•  Transitional housing.
WomenSafe’s clients include women who have fled abusive relationships and therefore can’t return home. In some cases, the victims have no family with whom to stay and inadequate resources to rent an apartment. With that in mind, WomenSafe plans to install two apartments in its former headquarters to provide temporary accommodations for victims and their children until they are able to get back on their feet.
Estimated cost of this project: Around $250,000.
•  A reserve fund, overseen by the Vermont Community Foundation, that will help the nonprofit pay for long-term maintenance of its newly enlarged campus, as well as expand its prevention programs into more Addison County schools. Those programs are now offered in around half of the county’s schools, according to Duquette-Hoffman. Using anatomically correct dolls, WomenSafe educators talk to students, teachers and parents about protecting potential victims from sexual abuse and violence, and preventing potential perpetrators from harming others.
WomenSafe has successfully applied for federal grants to underwrite the cost of its prevention programs. But Duquette-Hoffman said it would be prudent for the organization to have its own pot of money to boost its prevention program staff and prepare for the day when the grant money could evaporate.
Targeted size of the combined maintenance/prevention fund: $600,000.
“Our vision is to at least double our prevention efforts,” reads a WomenSafe flyer explaining the capital campaign. “We believe this is absolutely key in making our community safer for everyone, especially for children.”
People who want to contribute to the WomenSafe campaign can do so through womensafe.net, through the organization’s Facebook page, or by calling 388-9180.  WomenSafe also has a toll-free hotline for clients: 1-800-388-4205.
WomenSafe officials are also considering an organizational change that doesn’t require funding. They’re discussing a potential a name change to better reflect the fact that its services are delivered to a broader demographic than women.
“Our name shouldn’t exclude other people,” Duquette-Hoffman said.
“We don’t just serve women,” Mason said. “It’s about prevention, children and families. We are here for the safety of everyone in Addison County and the (Route 100) town of Rochester.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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