Empowering Survivors, Eliminating Violence: How a New Name Reflects the Centre County Women’s Resource Center Evolution Since the 1970’s.

By Jordan Gibby, Prevention Educator

For over 40 years, the Centre County Women’s Resource Center (CCWRC) has served the Highlands and broader Centre County community in combating domestic and sexual violence through confidential, free services. Started by grassroots activists in 1975, the original “organization” consisted of a small group of women bonding together and offering help with the challenges they faced. They would meet in a one-room space that offered resources, including social support, a lending library, and opportunities for personal and professional development. Much has changed since that small, one-room organization. As the years have passed, the mission of the organization has evolved to include the empowerment of all survivors of domestic and sexual violence, inclusive of all gender identities. To more fully reflect that mission, the organization now initiates its next chapter with a new, gender-inclusive name announced this year. All of this, however, can be traced to those early organizers’ efforts and their commitment to the empowerment of women, which remains alive within the CCWRC today.

The CCWRC came about during a key moment in our country’s history. The national movement for women’s equality was starting to truly gain momentum in the 1970s. Built upon the work and sacrifice of women during generations past, including those fearless suffragist women decades before, women in the 1970s were forging onward with making their harsh realities heard. Some of the first major strides in bringing to light the realities of domestic and sexual violence came about during these years, including the first “speak-out” for rape survivors which took place in New York City in 1971, and the first 24-hour rape crisis center which was founded in Berkley, California during that same year. Only a brief four years later, the Women’s Resource Center was founded locally in 1975. In 1978, it officially became known as the Centre County Women’s Resource Center when the local Women’s Resource Center, Domestic Violence Task Force, and Rape Crisis Center merged, and its focus on eliminating domestic and sexual violence was solidified.

The CCWRC moved to its current location in the Highlands in 1987 after receiving a generous private contribution and numerous donations from community members during a major giving campaign. The Highlands provided an ideal location for ease of access by community members and safe keeping of shelter residents. While some domestic violence shelters elsewhere try to maintain their location confidential in hopes of providing an extra level of safety, the CCWRC followed a different rationale, which has proved effective for years. Its shelter location is promulgated to the public, which accomplishes several important goals: victims in the community have a greater likelihood of knowing where to go when they need help, community members are able to provide extra watchful eyes to report any unsafe situations that may arise, and conspicuous safety measures can be implemented in the building’s infrastructure, including well-lit grounds, cameras, and secure entry points. The Highlands provide this type of easily accessible and recognizable location in the heart of State College, centralized in Centre County, and with close proximity to Penn State campus. Further, the CCWRC’s location in the Highlands positions it roughly two blocks away from the State College Police Department, providing quick response times when crises arise. For decades now, the Highlands has  offered an ideal location for helping victims of violence obtain and maintain safety.

The CCWRC has offered several crucial services since those early years. It operates a 24-hour crisis hotline with trained crisis counselors/advocates (staff and numerous volunteers) providing confidential support at any time, free of charge. Its emergency shelter provides short-term housing for victims in immediate need, and its transitional housing program provides opportunities to aid survivors with establishing housing security through longer-term financial and emotional support. The CCWRC’s trained advocates meet not only with shelter and transitional housing residents, but also hold ongoing daytime counseling meetings with others in need, facilitate support groups for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and respond to the hospital to provide support to victims of sexual assault seeking medical and forensic examinations. As the breadth of the CCWRC’s services has grown, so, too, has the number of staff and the need to provide space for these services.

After another major community giving campaign in the year 2000, the CCWRC expanded its building on Nittany Avenue, roughly tripling its size with more office and meeting space and a major increase in its shelter capacity. However, the expansion of the CCWRC has not been limited to solely growing the size of its building in the Highlands. Over years of serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence, the CCWRC has increased its ability to empower these survivors in the various aspects of their recovery, self-sufficiency, and healing through new programs and services.

In 1999, the CCWRC established a satellite office in Bellefonte for legal advocacy. CCWRC legal advocates assist victims of violence in navigating the complexities of the legal system and can aid them in filing protection orders through the Centre County Courts. Our Bellefonte office now houses an office for advocates and the agency’s Civil Legal Representation Project (CLRP). The CLRP provides three staff attorneys who offer free representation for victims of domestic and sexual violence in certain family law, Title IX, and immigration cases.

In 2005, the CCWRC and the State College Police Department received the Grant to Encourage Arrest Polices as part of the Violence Against Women Act, which funded the creation of the Victim-Centered Intensive Case Management Unit (VCICM), the first of its kind in the state of Pennsylvania. The VCICM includes a CCWRC advocate, stationed within the State College Police Department, who works alongside a specially trained detective to provide victim-centered services. The advocate is able to offer victims confidential support and effectively bridge the gap between our services and the important work of law enforcement.

Sadly, some CCWRC services arise after tragic events bring community needs to the surface. In 2007, Jodi Barone was murdered by her ex-husband as she sought to exchange custody of her child at a convenience store. In an effort to prevent such an event from happening again in the future, the CCWRC, in collaboration with Judge Thomas Kistler, formed the Centre County Child Access Center in Bellefonte, which opened its doors in 2008. This Center provides a place for safe custody exchanges and supervised visits for families with a history of abuse. Through carefully controlled entry times and separate points of entry into the building, parents can pick up or drop off their children for a custody exchange or parental visit in a secure location, without either parent ever having to see or interact with the other.

In addition to empowering survivors of violence through a wide variety of supportive services, the mission of the CCWRC also points toward the future. The CCWRC’s mission aims to eliminate domestic and sexual violence through prevention efforts. Throughout its history, the CCWRC has engaged in the prevention of violence through public policy advocacy, awareness campaigns, and educational programs. Today, the CCWRC offers violence-prevention educational trainings for professional groups (including PA-certified Mandated Reporter training and training on preventing and addressing domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace), school-based programs (using evidence-supported prevention curricula designed to be developmentally appropriate for students from Pre-K through college), and interactive educational programs for community groups. It’s not enough to simply respond to violence that has already happened; we, as a community, need to work to prevent it from happening in the first place.

As we move toward the goals of empowering survivors of domestic and sexual violence and working to eliminate such violence, the CCWRC continues to evolve. That evolution has been and will continue to be sparked by the needs of survivors and the community. As those needs arise and change, the CCWRC will adapt to meet them. Most recently, we have become increasingly aware that, although women make up the majority of victims of domestic and sexual violence, victims of violence come from all backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities. The CCWRC has offered its services to all victims/survivors for years, but the name of the organization does not properly reflect those inclusive values. In an effort to more effectively provide an inviting and safe space for survivors of all backgrounds, and after extensive conversations and data collection efforts among stakeholders and community members, the organization has decided to change its name to Centre Safe: Empowering Survivors, Eliminating Violence. This is truly another key moment in the storied history of our organization, and it moves us one step closer to providing the safety, healing, and hope that is our community’s desire. We hope you will join with us in support as this next chapter of our community movement unfolds.

Jordan Gibby gibby@ccwrc.org a Prevention Educator at the CCWRC. He has also previously worked at the CCWRC’s Child Access Center. He has facilitated numerous prevention programs for students, professionals, faith-based groups, and community groups. He has also organized community awareness campaigns to promote CCWRC’s services and increase knowledge of the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault. In addition, he manages CCWRC’s social media pages to help further spread awareness. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies.