COOS BAY — A group of women who founded and worked for the Women’s Safety and Resource Center in Coos Bay reunited at its offices Saturday at 1681 Newmark Ave. to discuss and reflect on the center’s longstanding history.
The center, which was renamed the SAFE Project in 2017, has since its inception dedicated itself to empowering and helping survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Coos County for more than 40 years.
Stacy Rose, Luda Rhodes, Diana FeatherNecklace and Susan Coleman-Fraser were among the early board members, staffers, executive directors and volunteers of the center who met Saturday with current staff members to discuss its history.
“It was pretty tough in the beginning,” said FeatherNecklace, a former executive director and counselor for the center. “We had to beg for every cent from every place around us and we had to educate a lot of people in the community.”
Organizers of the center, which was founded in 1979, worked tirelessly for years to raise local awareness of domestic violence and sexual abuse to community members, law enforcement agencies, hospital employees and city officials.
“I am a survivor of domestic violence and child abuse,” said FeatherNecklace. “I think for all of us, being able to talk to other people who were in violent situations and since we had already been through it we knew exactly where they were and what was going on with them and how to recognize the signs.”
The domestic violence movement in Oregon and across the nation started with women just like these who were survivors themselves, said SAFE Project Executive Director Rachel Espy.
“This work has always been built on the backs of survivors,” said Espy. “They saw the need knowing they had no place to go and no place to turn to … they made it so that other survivors weren’t alone in the same way they were.”
Rose, a former community education coordinator for the center, said during the early 1980’s many of the women involved with the center oftentimes did more than one job as they worked to educate the community and help women in need.
A majority of its staff, as well as its volunteers, would often house women in their own homes, provide transportation services in their vehicles as well as keep pagers on them to be able to connect to the 24-hour crisis line.
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Today, the SAFE Project offers two emergency shelters, which are open to all survivors of domestic violent and sexual assault regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. Last summer, the shelters were renovated and updated to now include 32 beds for people in need.
With its own shelter van and its ongoing partnership with Yellow Cab & Taxi in Coos Bay, the group is able to offer free rides to people who utilize their services. In addition, staff members will also provide transportation services as needed, said Espy.
The organization also continues to offer its 24-hour crisis and support hotline, educational outreach services, counseling, court advocacy as well as confidential, safety planning. According to Espy, SAFE advocates are now available on site at both Southwestern Oregon Community College and The Department of Human Services offices in North Bend.
While it works to finalize its data from last year, the organization in 2018 recorded serving more than 1,000 clients throughout Coos County and sheltering more than 150 adults and 50 children.
Looking to the future, Espy said she hopes to include additional transportation services and housing options for people with service dogs or emotional support animals to be able to bring their pets with them.
Espy also said the organization is looking to hire a housing advocate this year who will help survivors find permanent housing. Espy said the organization’s primary need is for volunteers to help assist with its 24-hour crisis line.
However for folks who aren’t able to volunteer but still want to help, Espy said people can become advocates by listening and believing in survivors.
“Anyone can be a safe place, anyone can be an advocate for survivors,” said Espy. “Our job is to empower survivors and to give them options to let them make the choice that makes them the most safe.”
Whether it was to let others know that they were not alone, to make a difference in the lives of survivors or to take part in a movement that empowered countless women throughout Coos County, the past and current members of the SAFE Project all joined the organization because they wanted to help.
“I feel good about what’s happening here,” said FeatherNecklace. “I’m so grateful to all of them because I know how hard this work can be.”
For more information about the SAFE Project or for those interested in volunteering, visit its Facebook page or call its main office at 541-888-1048.