For 12 years, Amyâ€™s House has been a success story, helping countless domestic abuse victims and their children find better lives.
Now, it appears the shelter and its accompanying domestic violence program are poised to reach new levels of success, thanks to an unlikely outreach center as well as the continuing support of numerous people and organizations whose time and talents enable Amyâ€™s House to thrive.
Open since the beginning of October, The Purple Shoe Thrift Store was originally intended as a means of supplementing funds to support Amyâ€™s House. According to Executive Director Vicky Lingerfelt, it has become much more.
â€œItâ€™s helping make money to pay the bills,â€ said Lingerfelt. â€œBut it has also turned out to be another resource center for victims.â€
Lingerfelt says women just looking for someone to talk to have turned to the thrift store for outreach.
Without a doubt, serving as executive director of Amyâ€™s House has its rewards, but it also carries with it an emotional cost and sometimes high levels of stress. Still, Lingerfelt wouldnâ€™t swap the challenges she faces for a position less demanding. Allyson Levine / LTN Photo
This new means of helping women trapped in the cycle of domestic violence only adds to a program that has long been buoyed by dedicated workers, volunteers and community members.
Since opening in January of 1995, Amyâ€™s House has changed the lives of over 3500 women and over 5000 children. It may never have existed were it not for the efforts of Amy Beal, for whom the shelter is named.
â€œShe was a victim of abuse who got away,â€ Lingerfelt said. â€œShe was dedicated to making sure there was a shelter in Lincolnton.â€
Sadly, Beal died of cancer before the shelter opened. Her mother, Ruth, continued to work for Amyâ€™s House after her daughterâ€™s passing, helping raise money through a golf tournament sponsored by Heafner Tire.
The community pitches in
Over the years, other companies have made invaluable contributions that have enabled Amyâ€™s House to continue serving the community.
When it opened, Amyâ€™s House could only house seven victims. In 1996, a grant from Timken allowed the shelter to expand, making enough room to house 15 women and children.
Then, in 2005, Timken provided another grant so that Amyâ€™s House could add on again or move if necessary.
â€œWe were going to buy a new place, but the zoning didnâ€™t pan out,â€ said Lingerfelt. â€œI came to the office to think and noticed that the house next door was for sale.â€
Purchasing the house next door has enabled Amyâ€™s House to expand even further, providing more room for the shelterâ€™s counseling services and the capacity to house up to 23 people.
Loweâ€™s has also been a big help to Amyâ€™s House over the years. This past Christmas, the company had an angel tree to sponsor a number of families the shelter had helped throughout the year.
According to Lingerfelt, assistance comes from sources all over the county.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a lot of help from the community,â€ Lingerfelt said. â€œWeâ€™ve had groups to do paper drives, where they collect and donate paper towels and toilet paper. There have been churches and youth groups to do canned food drives or donate cleaning supplies.â€
Although privately owned, Amyâ€™s House is operated with funds from the North Carolina Council for Women, as well as the North Carolina Department of Human Resources, the Emergency Shelter Grant and the Governorâ€™s Crime Commission.
Almost half of the funding comes from the Lincoln County United Way.
â€œUnited Way plays a big part in keeping the shelter running,â€ said Lingerfelt. â€œThat is also due to the people in the community who donate to United Way.â€
In addition, Lingerfelt is grateful for the private donations the shelter receives. According to Lingerfelt, the Diggers and Duffers Garden Club has taken a big interest in Amyâ€™s House, providing monthly contributions. The Sailview Garden Club of Denver also contributes regularly.
For Lingerfelt, making sure Amyâ€™s House has the funds to stay afloat has sometimes proven the most stressful part of the job.
â€œWhen we first started, there were times I couldnâ€™t make payroll,â€ Lingerfelt said. â€œFunding is not secured, and you can lose the grants at any time. There are times of the year when I break out in hives.â€
But for the most part, corporate and community support has kept Lingerfeltâ€™s stress level to a minimum, allowing her to focus on what Amyâ€™s House is all about: helping domestic violence victims and their children.
The process of helping starts when families move into the shelter and into the instant family that is Amyâ€™s House.
â€œPeople bond together,â€ said Lingerfelt. â€œTheyâ€™ve never known the feeling of having a family sitting down for a peaceful meal. Thatâ€™s what these women are after, a family atmosphere.â€
At Amyâ€™s House the focus is not only on taking care of peopleâ€™s immediate needs, but also on anticipating what they will need for future success. Among the shelterâ€™s many offerings are recipe workshops, in which victims learn how to cook for their families, and parenting classes through the Citizens Center.
The program at Amyâ€™s House also puts a lot of emphasis on helping victims prepare to support their families. There is assistance in finding housing, making a resume and job training through a program at Goodwill. The staff of Amyâ€™s House will also refer victims to the Employment Security Commission and even drive them to job interviews if they lack transportation.
The length of a familyâ€™s stay at Amyâ€™s House is dependent on how long it takes to find the family a home.
â€œI wonâ€™t put people out on the street,â€ Lingerfelt said.
Although Lingerfelt admits that staff members often form attachments to the women and children who pass through Amyâ€™s House, she also says that seeing them succeed is well worth the pain of letting them go.
â€œYou wouldnâ€™t believe the ties you build with these people,â€ said Lingerfelt. â€œStill, itâ€™s a wonderful feeling to see them leave and go to their own apartment. They know they are accomplishing something.â€
Recently, a new employee in a new position at Amyâ€™s House has made outreach much easier for one segment of the population. Since July, Nuria Chavez has been the Hispanic Outreach Coordinator at Amyâ€™s House, reaching out to Hispanic women whose lack of English proficiency might otherwise prevent them from seeking help.
â€œI have made contact with many Hispanic females in the community,â€ Chavez said.
Aside from acting as an interpreter, Chavez goes above and beyond to let Hispanic domestic abuse victims know they are not alone. Whether continuing to follow up with the women long after they have left Amyâ€™s House, or providing moral support by accompanying victims to court or to the hospital, Chavez has added a much-needed additional resource to the Hispanic community.
â€œI serve as a communication source for Hispanic females,â€ said Chavez. â€œI think itâ€™s a lifesaver for Hispanic victims and their kids.â€
Anyone who has a heart
Both Lingerfelt and Chavez agree that it takes a special person to work with the victims of domestic violence. Lingerfelt is proud to note that her daughter, Britney, may be following in her footsteps.
â€œShe wrote a proposal and got Lincoln County a spot on the Coalition Against Sexual Assaultâ€™s youth advisory board,â€ Lingerfelt said. â€œSheâ€™s grown up around this, sheâ€™s very knowledgeable and she has the heart to do this.â€
Having a heart must be a prerequisite for working with Amyâ€™s House. Temperance Waters, owner/stylist at H2Oâ€™s Salon on North Aspen Street, has been volunteering to give makeovers to women staying at the shelter. Waters understands how even something as simple as a new hairdo can make a woman feel better about herself and, therefore, about her life in general. She has seen the effects of domestic abuse firsthand.
â€œMy sister was in a situation like the victims at Amyâ€™s House,â€ said Waters. â€œI saw in my church bulletin that they were looking for help, so I called and said I would volunteer.â€
Making the decision
Waters wants domestic abuse victims to know that it is all right to speak up.
â€œPeople should know that itâ€™s okay to let someone know you need help,â€ Waters said.
Often, taking that initial step toward breaking the cycle of domestic abuse is the hardest part. For Nicolette*, (*name changed for safety reasons-Editor) a current resident at Amyâ€™s House, it was a step a quarter century in the making.
â€œI was married for 25 years,â€ Nicolette said. â€œI dealt with abuse, mostly mental abuse, for a long time. I have a 12-year-old son, and I decided to make a change for him.â€
Now, after four months at the shelter, Nicolette is thriving, and so is her son.
â€œHe loves it here and loves school,â€ said Nicolette. â€œHe has a different attitude on life.â€
For Nicolette, coming to Amyâ€™s House has meant an opportunity for a better life, and she is looking forward to whatever life has in store.
â€œMy goal is to have a normal life and to be happy,â€ Nicolette said. â€œAnything that comes behind that, Iâ€™ll take that, too.â€
Continue the mission
The success stories of Nicolette and all the other women and children who have passed through Amyâ€™s House might have remained unwritten if not for a community that has embraced the shelter wholeheartedly. Yet keeping Amyâ€™s House going requires ongoing support, making fundraising a year-round effort.
The Purple Shoe Thrift Store has helped the cause, as does the sale of cookbooks made up of recipes from Amyâ€™s House supporters all over the state and beyond. As individuals, the residents of Lincoln County can contribute in a number of ways. For example, according to Lingerfelt, the women at the shelter are always in need of diapers.
Donations are welcome at either the shelter or the thrift store, although Lingerfelt says the shelter is preferable because the women staying there get first choice whenever things come in. Aside from big appliances, Amyâ€™s House is looking for all types of donations, from clothing to furniture.
For anyone looking to be of assistance, gift cards are another way to help the victims at Amyâ€™s House. According to Lingerfelt, gift cards are a great and simple way to make a difference for mothers and their children.
â€œWhen they leave the abuser, there are a few weeks before WIC kicks in,â€ said Lingerfelt. â€œWe had a girl whose baby had some health problems and could only drink one kind of formula, which costs $26. Itâ€™s good for people to give gift cards in situations like that.â€
Whether it is a gift card or a bag of diapers, any donation to Amyâ€™s House helps the shelter continue its program, helping domestic abuse victims move from vulnerability to empowerment. As long as the people of this community continue to care about Amyâ€™s House, Amyâ€™s House can continue to care for the women and children whose lives are being torn apart by domestic violence.
by Allyson Levine