WAIC’s name is changing after 40 years

ELKINS– Incorporated in 1979, Women’s Aid in Crisis, Inc. has been providing direct services to victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, teen dating violence, human trafficking and stalking for 40 years.

The organization provides services to victims in Randolph, Tucker, Upshur, Barbour, Webster and Braxton counties.

“We’ve been providing services in the six counties as long as anyone here can remember,” said J. Leigh Johnston, executive director of Women’s Aid in Crisis, Inc. “It started with one shelter and grew over time and with funding.”

According to Johnston, the organization began to receive more funding when it started to become recognized on a national level.

“Funds started to trickle down from the federal government support programs, which did take some time,” said Johnston.

Johnston said the organization has had roughly half a dozen directors, the most recent long-term director being Marcia Drake, who served in the position for 20 years.

“She took it from a nearly-bankrupt organization to close to where we are today, although we have grown some in the last year,” said Johnston.

“We serve well over a thousand each year, but it does vary. Some years are as high as 1,800 to 2,000, and others can be in the 1,100 to 1,200 range.”

In order to better reflect its current work and the work it will be doing moving forward, the charitable organization is changing its name to Centers Against Violence to be more inclusive of the large number of men it serves each year.

“Times have changed; funding has changed. Back in the 1970s and 80s, part of the funding was collecting all the data. We know a whole lot more now than we did then, and we know that men are almost as likely as women to be victims of domestic and sexual violence — especially as children,” said Johnston.

“We are looking at opening up a men’s shelter because it’s so prominent. As the stigma around male victimization decreases, more and more men are coming forward,” said Johnston, adding there were only two men’s shelters in the entire country as of late 2017.

“As we grow, we want each county to get its own center, although I don’t know that I will ever get the money to have an actual shelter in all six counties. We’re going to try to offer some form of secure housing alternative for victims in each county. As we move forward, each office will actually be its own center, and, hopefully we’ll have shelter options available in each county,” said Johnston.

“We know that victims don’t like to leave their support systems, their churches, their families– even if it means risking their own safety. They oftentimes stay in that relationship because they don’t have any other option and, for example, moving to Elkins for someone who lives in Braxton or Webster County would put them an hour and a half away from their support systems, so they choose to stay. But what if we could bring an option? If we were in their county, they’d be more apt to leave and live lives free of violence once they got out and away.”

Women’s Aid in Crisis/Centers Against Violence is set to celebrate its 40 anniversary during a fundraising gala at Graceland on the Davis & Elkins College beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday.

“We are celebrating our 40th anniversary, which is pretty amazing for a nonprofit, and we are also pleading with the community for support. It’s a fundraiser but also a celebration,” said Johnston.

The event will begin with a social hour followed by buffet-style dinner at 6; additionally, the event will feature a silent auction, a cash bar and speakers who will recount the founding of the organization alongside its struggles and triumphs throughout the years. Tickets are available on the Women’s Aid in Crisis Facebook page as well as by calling 304-636-8433.

“It’s going to be a nice evening and a really good opportunity to partner with Women’s Aid in Crisis/Centers Against Violence to take that stand– that violence is not okay and never will be. It’s a really good opportunity for us to share what we do and for our community to step up and take that stand,” said Johnston.