NEW ALBANY — It was serendipitous that the Center for Women and Families started to focus on mobile-based services for Southern Indiana survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and domestic violence in early 2020.
The Center held its Breakfast of Brilliance Thursday morning at Mansion 1886 in New Albany and highlighted the work it has done in Clark and Floyd counties over the past few years.
“I look forward to having some great conversations,” said President and Chief Empowerment Officer Elizabeth Wessels-Martin. “...And having conversations about the uptick in domestic-violence-related homicides. So today’s a very important time to have a discussion, to learn, listen and ask questions.”
So far this year, the Center has served 135 unduplicated clients. Since 2018 826 unduplicated survivors have received services.
Despite the pandemic’s uncertainty, advocates were able to get on the road to meet clients anywhere, said Director of Southern Indiana Programs Zenebia Law.
“It enabled us to meet our clients and survivors where they are, the model has been tested and tweaked over the past few years and it grows,” Law said. “It allows us to connect to survivors in ways we didn’t before and it was a crucial tool in providing services during COVID.”
She said the model, which focused on helping people of all socio-economic and educational backgrounds, broke down barriers and improved access to survivors.
Since February there’s been at least four domestic violence homicides in Clark and Floyd counties.
Police said Jasmine Andrews was killed at a home along Kerry Ann Way in Jeffersonville on Feb. 17. Her ex-husband, Jessey Andrews, is facing a murder charge in her death.
According to court documents, Brandee Douglass, and bystander Lorin Yelle, were shot and killed at a Circle K gas station in New Albany on April 4. Douglass’ husband Cherok Douglass is charged with murder in both cases.
Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Bennett Lewis was shot and killed in Sellersburg on April 1. Her child and another minor were in the home at the time. Bennett’s father is former Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
Her husband, Mac Lewis, is facing a murder charge in her death as well asattempted murder and three criminal recklessness with a weapon charges.
A moment of silence was held for these women, and others, at the breakfast.
Keynote Speaker Kim Tharp-Barrie, the System Vice President and Chief Learning Officer with the Institute for Education and Development at Norton Healthcare, asked for the moment to reflect before speaking.
Tharp-Barrie is a southern Indiana resident and domestic violence survivor, who is also a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. She said Lizzie Bennett was especially near and dear to her family.
“My children went to school with the Bennetts...they were very well known,” Tharp-Barrie said. “Now I have to tell you for me to be getting a cup of coffee late after work and to see her face flash on the screen, it just took me to my knees...I just wanted to have a moment of silence for Lizzie and those in the Kentuckiana region who have lost their lives to domestic violence this year.”
Tharp-Barrie has been associated with The Center for more than 20 years and shared a story of hope about her own experiences with her abusive ex-husband. She also honored the men at the breakfast and thanked them for being there.
“One in four women are victims of domestic violence,” she said. “And one in six men are also victims.”
Volunteer of the Year Kevin J. Krupski was also honored at the event. Krupski started helping with The Center when there was a shelter in New Albany.
He said he saw domestic violence firsthand with his mother being abused and wanted to be able to give back. Krupski helped all around the facilities, doing handiwork and upkeep for The Center.
The Center moved in 2020 to its brick and mortar facility at 1301 Akers Avenue, Jeffersonville, which offers services including legal advocacy, prevention education for community members, sexual assault therapy and group therapy.
Walk-in services at the location are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There’s a crisis line available during those hours at 812-944-6743. The after-hours and 24/7 crisis line can be reached at 1-844-237-2331.
“We’ve connected with clients in all stages,” Law said. “Some are considering leaving their abusers, while some have already left and are working with advocates to stay safe, establish boundaries and build coping skills.”