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Interact broadens focus

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By Leslie Williams

RALEIGH, N.C. – With a funding boost from the John Rex Endowment, Interact is planning to expand its focus to include serving families of abuse victims.

The Wake County agency, which works to transform the lives of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, received a three-year, $359,000 grant from the Rex Endowment in August.

That investment will help the organization engineer a transformation of its own, says Adam Hartzell, Interact’s executive director.

“It’s really a kind of transition grant for us, helping us get from where we were are and helping us get to where we need to be,” he says.

By emphasizing “wraparound” services for families, Interact aims to address not only physical abuse, but other problems such as substance abuse that also tend to be present in affected households.

The grant already has allowed the agency to hire a child and family specialist, Jaime Reyno, to oversee work with children at the shelter, and existing staff members are slated to undergo further training to prepare them for expanded children’s care.

“A lot of the time the women are bringing their children with them,” says Hartzell.  “Already we’re seeing staff being more aware to ask those questions and better appreciate that we need to be concerned about the children in these cases.”

The grant also will allow Interact staff to travel to other “best-practice sites,” or agencies where a child- and family-centered approach is operating successfully.

The funding from Rex is a breakthrough of sorts, says Hartzell, because it represents a long-overdue acknowledgement of domestic violence as a health issue.

“The most important thing about this grant is the aspect of recognizing that this new approach to providing domestic violence services falls into the realm of what the John Rex Endowment does,” Hartzell says.

The Endowment, formed in 2000 with funds from the sale of Rex Healthcare to the University of North Carolina Healthcare System, aims to meet the health needs of underserved children in Wake County.

The funder first worked with Interact in 2005 with a $362,000 grant to Hope for Children, a joint initiative in which Interact, Triangle Family Services and SAFEchild are providing case management for children in need of therapeutic visitation, crisis counseling and psychiatric services.

“We have really been impressed with Interact and their work with other agencies,” says Kevin Cain, president and CEO of the Rex Endowment. “The more time we spend doing this [sort of funding] the more we help agencies become stronger.”

Hartzell says Interact identified child and family services as a primary need for the agency’s clients two years ago as a result of the work of a needs-assessment committee.

Statistics show that children live in eight of 10 homes where domestic violence occurs, says Hartzell, and half of those children are victims themselves.

Many families face other issues as well, including substance abuse, mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We’re doing a much better job now of screening folks and using tools to work with folks and identifying the full difficulties they face,” Hartzell says.

Through other funding sources, he says, Interact is working several issues identified by the needs assessment committee, including expanding services to rural areas of the county, growing shelter capacity to 40 or 50 beds from 18, better serving disabled clients and increasing security.

But the first step is determining the shape of Interact’s services under its new child- and family-centered approach, he says.

“Once we know better what these services are going to look like,” he says, “we’ll have a better idea of what to do to improve our facilities.”

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