By Todd Cohen
RAEFORD, N.C. — Two year after shifting its focus from at-risk youth to domestic violence, four-year-old Hoke County Youth and Family Services in Raeford aims this spring to lease a house that would shelter four to five families.
The agency, which serves roughly 200 families a year also plans to form a social women’s social group that would meet once a month, and create a giving society to encourage individual gifts of $25 a year.
With an estimated 2,500 to 3,500 victims of domestic violence in Hoke County, mainly poor women and children, the agency works to “make them become whole and self-sufficient,” says Karen Wright-Fairley, executive director.
Wright-Fairley, a graduate of the college of law at the University of Toledo in Ohio, founded the agency in 2000 mainly to serve youth.
Chaired for its first three years by Warren Pate, chief district court judge for Judicial District 16A, which serves Hoke and Scotland counties, the agency worked closely with the Juvenile Court Counselor’s Office and with the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, a task force overseen by the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
But in 2002, when the county’s only local domestic-violence agency went out of business, Youth and Family Services changed its emphasis.
“There’s an epidemic of domestic violence in Hoke and Scotland counties,” says Pate.
The agency still serves at-risk youth, but mainly those whose problems are related to domestic violence, says Wright-Fairley.
Youth and Family Services, with a staff of four people and an annual budget of $200,000, serves as an advocate and a resource for domestic-violence victims, she said.
Agency officials accompany clients to court to help them obtain domestic-violence protective orders, for example, or work to help them find and secure housing, or return to school.
The agency also provides emergency financial assistance for needs such as day care, and provides volunteer babysitters so women can go to court.
Many women who are victims of domestic violence are “not real sure about their rights,” Wright-Fairley says, or fear repercussions such as the loss of their children if they pursue court protection.
“There were no resources here for them,” she says.
The agency’s biggest priority this year will be to establish a shelter for victims, says Raz Autry, chairman of its board and retired superintendent of Hoke County Schools.
Victims looking for a place to stay now must go to shelters in Cumberland or Moore counties, and finding transportation can be tough, says Wright-Fairley.
The agency hopes to rent a home that can house four to five families, along with its offices, now located in office space, paid for by the county, next to the U.S. Post Office on West Elwood Avenue.
Autry says priorities for the board will be to raise money for the new facility, probably through a special event to be held this spring, and to create a fundraising “club” whose only purpose would be to recruit donors who could give $25 a year.
“It would be a way to contribute and get citizens involved who otherwise could not afford a large donation,” he says.
By serving as an advocate, the agency wants to help women see that “they have voices and that life is so much greater than living in fear,” Wright-Fairley says. “There’s a whole other world with opportunities and so much to do. And you don’t have to live in fear and be trapped in a loveless relationship.”