Hope helps during holidays

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Tucked in the back of the Hope Unlimited complex is a comfortable little room, not unlike a waiting room at a doctor’s office.
Beneath a painting on a wall of the Child Advocacy Center, as the room is known, hangs a video camera, there to record interviews with children who have suffered through domestic violence and sexual assault situations.
The camera allows the children to “go through the post-abuse interview once,” instead of repeatedly to every agency or individual that might need details in the quest to assist the victim, said Michele Meiwes, coordinator of Hope Unlimited’s Child Exchange and Parenting Center.
Such agencies include law enforcement, Social and Rehabilitative Services and possibly the child’s relatives.
“The interview is encrypted and transferred to DVD for use by law enforcement,” Meiwes said.
“Research shows that retelling the story retraumatizes the victim” Meiwes said. “They basically experience the abuse over and over again.”
“Our goal here is safety for everyone,” she noted.
Assault victim numbers are sobering: One in three women report being beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. One in five high school students report such abuse. And 46 percent of cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identify domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness in their communities, Hope Unlimited’s Executive Director Dorothy Sparks said.
Hope Unlimited helps about 500 such victims each year.

AS THE holidays approach, victims of domestic abuse can be hard-pressed to feel festive.
Hope Unlimited tries to normalize the holidays by providing a Holiday Hope Shop for clients of the agency.
“People donate (new) items for adults and children,” Meiwes said. “Families then use the Hope Shop to procure gifts (free of charge) for their children, and children get gifts for their parents.”
They can also wrap and tag their gifts at the Hope Shop.
“One thing we don’t get a lot of is gifts for junior high and high school kids, especially boys,” Meiwes said. Such gifts are needed, she said.
Meiwes said gift certificates to local businesses, movie passes, certificates for fast food meals and video rental cards are all good bets for junior high and high school students. So are hand-held video game systems, stocking caps and CDs and DVDs.
In addition, underwear, socks, gloves and scarves are appreciated. For kids removed from their home environment, even the smallest gift can mean a lot.
“We’re lucky that we live in an Ozzie and Harriet sort of society,” Meiwes said of life in Allen County. For abuse victims, though, she said, “The reality is, we deal with a nasty, grim secret society.”
The Holiday Hope Shop served 212 families last Christmas season. “This year, we expect at least 250,” Meiwes said.