WomenSafe is over half way toward $1.2M goal

MNIDDLEBURY — WomenSafe has officially passed the halfway mark in its biggest-ever fund drive, a $1.2 million effort to renovate its administrative offices, create transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, and deliver anti-violence education to a greater number of school children in Addison County.
Kerri Duquette-Hoffman, executive director of WomenSafe, confirmed on Monday the organization has raised more than $640,000 toward its goal. The money will be used to purchase and renovate the agency’s new Middlebury headquarters, establish two transitional apartments for victims in its former headquarters, and create a reserve fund to pay for long-term maintenance of its facilities. Those funds will also help WomenSafe expand its prevention programs into additional Addison County schools.
“Knowing your community is behind you is phenomenal,” Duquette-Hoffman said of the support to date.
The Middlebury-based nonprofit raised the first $500,000 over two years during a silent campaign. WomenSafe officials went public with the fund drive last fall. Many area residents and businesses have rallied behind the organization with contributions ranging from volunteer help to gifts ranging from a few dollars to a few five-figure checks. One anonymous donor gave $100,000 during the early stages of the campaign.
The effort has now reached what WomenSafe advisors had warned would be the trickiest phase: That portion between the $600,000 and $800,000 marks.
Thanks to wise planning and sound advice, WomenSafe has expanded the number of donation options open to supporters. Along with the traditional check or credit card contributions, people can grant bequests, make WomenSafe a beneficiary of a will, and/or sign over stock.
“We picked up a lot of different ways of increasing the momentum,” said Duquette-Hoffman, who gave special shout-outs to the Middlebury consulting group Community Barn Ventures and volunteer Chris Dayton for helping with outreach efforts.
WomenSafe board chairperson Amy Mason and Duquette-Hoffman have both been amazed by the support from the community and the creative contribution concepts that have sprung from the community. For example, the Vermont Book Shop held a pop-up fundraiser on Mother’s Day titled “Blind Date with a Book,” through which supporters purchased tomes with concealed titles. Stonecutter spirits hosted a “Gal-entines” event this past February to benefit the campaign.
Renowned local artist Carol Calhoun of Weybridge donated a painting, titled “Affordable Housing,” to the WomenSafe campaign. The painting — which starred on WomenSafe’s annual Mother’s Day card this year — will be raffled off on June 13.
Middlebury Frame Shop & Gallery did a “March Madness: Hoops for Charity” promotion that collected hundreds of dollars for three local charities, including WomenSafe.
“These are creative, unique initiatives that the board and staff didn’t have anything to do with other than showing up and helping promote them,” Mason said.
She added Community Barn Ventures co-founder Mary Cullinane, rich in contacts, is trying to recruit some Broadway talent to perform at a future benefit for the WomenSafe cause, according to Mason.
“It’s a big undertaking for a small organization to raise $1.2 million,” Mason said. “When you have folks coming out of the blue doing some of the brainstorming for you, that makes the work much more pleasant and easier.”
Officials are chalking up some of the campaign success to heightened awareness of domestic violence issues at the national level. Mason specifically cited the “Me Too” movement and renewed calls for gun control in wake of recent mass shootings.
“It’s a different landscape where we’re doing our work right now,” Mason said. “It’s much more public and much more about getting those dark subjects out into the light, when it’s safe for people to do so. We’re here at a time when people want to talk about this more.”
The WomenSafe fund drive has offered a way for people to act locally to battle a national problem.
“The sheer number of people who’ve been supporting us is growing,” Mason said. “It’s really meaningful. We’re grateful.”
Vermont Integrated Architecture recently produced conceptual designs for the two transitional apartments that will give domestic violence victims a safe, affordable and comfortable place to stay while they get their lives back in order and find permanent housing. The sketches depict one- and two-bedroom options with bath, kitchen and living room area. WomenSafe is keeping the exact location of the apartment building confidential given some clients are fleeing ex-partners who might want to harm them.
Having design concepts in hand has given boosters tangible evidence of progress, as has recent creation of the reserve fund. The new fund, overseen by the Vermont Community Foundation, is off to a $117,000 start, according to Duquette-Hoffman.
“It’s really exciting for the agency,” she said. “We’re hoping it grows. It provides financial stability, which was one of our goals in starting the capital campaign.”
While WomenSafe officials haven’t set a formal date to close out the fund drive, they hope to hit the $1.2 million mark sooner than later. That’s in part because there’s a shortage of affordable housing in the county, and WomenSafe wants to act on the town permits it has received to put its renovation plans into motion.
“It’s hard to see a building not being used that could house two families,” Duquette-Hoffman said of the transitional housing portion of the campaign.
WomenSafe wants to hear from anyone interested in helping the organization — both during and after the fund drive. The organization recently expanded its board from eight to nine members. There are currently three vacancies on the panel, which draws folks from all walks of life.
“We support people across the gender spectrum,” Mason said. “Although we’re ‘WomenSafe,’ it’s a bit of a misnomer because we help anyone of any age, and not just women, who are experiencing domestic or sexual violence. We are seeking to have our board be representative of that diversity as well.”
For more information about WomenSafe and how to contribute to its capital campaign, go to womensafe.net or call 388-9180. Contributions can also be made through the organization’s Facebook page.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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