By NORMAN CANNADA
WALHALLA — A domestic violence shelter is now a reality in Oconee County.
Safe Harbor officials announced at a press conference Friday they had officially purchased a five-bedroom home that will become the county’s first domestic violence shelter when it opens in the next few months. In addition, Safe Harbor officials said they had exceeded their goal of $990,000 by nearly $200,000, raising $1,176,980 for the shelter, renovations, security and staff and operating expenses for the next three years.
Becky Callaham, executive director of Safe Harbor, said the shelter will be open by July. Bob Hanson, who along with his wife, Fran, has already given $100,000 to the shelter and has promised another $50,000 on the day it opens, challenged Callaham to opened the shelter in May. Callaham said after the meeting that she will work toward the May goal.
“It makes me nervous because there is more to renovating a building for a confidential safe home than you would have for any other business,” she said. “But I do believe we can do it.”
Callaham praised the work of local residents who poured in a wealth of gifts to raise the money in about 10 months.
“It was a multi-faceted deep community-based fundraising and friend-raising campaign that I had never seen the likes of and I don’t know if any other community has seen the likes of,” she said. “I truly believe that Oconee County has made history in coming together for a common goal to bring awareness as well as raising money. Every time we felt like we might be lagging in fundraising, there was an enormous gift that came our way.”
The five-bedroom home will sleep approximately 20 people and will have staff including a full-time counselor The location has not been released for security reasons. A security system and fencing are being included in the renovations. Sheriff Mike Crenshaw has already set up an ankle-monitoring system that will notify authorities if an alleged offender is within a certain distance of the shelter.
Callaham credited State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, with helping Safe Harbor apply for and receive about $228,000 in funds from the S.C. Housing Trust that officials did not know existed.
Alexander said the money was not from state tax dollars. He said he emphasized the efforts of the local community in raising money to the grant committee.
“I am not surprised that we are here,” Alexander said. “I knew the generosity and kindness of the people of Oconee County would meet this need. We worked with folks (in the grant) who have resources that are not state tax dollars and we had the opportunity to make that case.”
Crenshaw has been championing the need for a shelter since a murder-suicide near Seneca in January 2013 that took the life of Gwen Hiott and James Foxx.
“It’s dreary outside, but its one of the brightest days I think I have experienced in 26-plus years of law enforcement,” Crenshaw said. “A year ago this week after the death of Gwen Hiott, our folks all felt hopeless. I felt my responsibility as sheriff to draw that proverbial line in the sand and say ‘we’re not going to take it anymore.’ We went all over this county talking about domestic violence. You literally have changed the futures of victims of domestic violence in Oconee County.”
Tony Munger, who was Hiott’s supervisor at Sandvik, said the fact that most of the nearly $1.2 million was raised after Hiott’s death, “brings a lot of comfort to those of us who worked with her personally, and I am sure her family will feel the same way.
“The others who worked with her will be pleased to know that she is still playing a big part in the community,” he said.
Sgt. Kevin Cain and Victim Advocate Ronda Morgan, who both work with domestic violence at the sheriff’s office, said the shelter offers hope to victims. Morgan, a victim herself more than 20 years ago, said she would likely have used the shelter had it been available during her struggles.
John Powell, who headed the local committee that founded the home and raised the money for the shelter, encouraged people to get involved in the lives of others to help prevent domestic violence.
“Nobody in the end will ever be mad at you for saving their life,” Powell said. “When we hear something, do something about it. Don’t wait until something happens. We have to stop this crime.
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