By Michael Howell
The non-profit organization called Supporters of Abuse Free Environments (SAFE) which provides shelter and other services to victims of sexual and domestic violence is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. Despite the recent setback suffered when a fire damaged a portion of its building on Fairgrounds Road, the organization is fully operating and ready to celebrate a quarter century of operation at its annual Crystal Ball fundraiser at the Bitterroot River Inn this Friday.
The organization was originally formed by Hamilton Soroptimist International in 1998. Founded in 1921, Soroptimist International is a world-wide volunteer service organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. The local shelter began by operating out of spare bedrooms in private homes located in the community. Then, in 2000, the organization moved into its own facility on Fairgrounds Road where it provides two shelter rooms and a host of other services. It’s a busy place and use of the facility is growing. In the last six months, the organization has provided over 1,500 shelter nights; typically it has provided about 2,000 per year.
According to Stacey Umhey, SAFE Executive Director, who has directed the organization for the last 15 years, it was quickly realized that hiding women and children was not enough. The organization now offers transitional housing where women in transition can live for up to two years. SAFE also offers prevention programs in the community, such as the bullying program offered in the local schools, and works with many other local agencies such as the Job Service and the Human Resource Council.
“We give people the tools they need to help themselves and develop healthy relationships,” said Umhey. She said they teach people about equality in relationships, and help people develop conflict resolution skills, and self-confidence.
On March 15 of this year, a fire that started in the landscaping outside the building entered the building through a heating vent and spread through the crawl space, destroying most of the floor joists. The fire did not get above the floor but smoke damage from the fire was extensive. The offices are currently unusable and the shelter room space has been cut in half.
“But the good news,” said Umhey, “is that we are still operating and offering shelter and all our other community services.” She said the fire has taken the organization back to its roots when it worked out of various public service offices and over the phone.
SAFE’s Transitional Housing Program is currently operating out of the Bitterroot Job Service. That program can be reached by calling 375-6048.
Advocacy Services and Children’s Services are temporarily housed at the Human Resource Center, 316 N. Third Street. To reach an advocate, just call 363-4600 twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The office number there is 363-6101, ext. 240.
The Coalition Program and Administrative Staff are operating out of T-Shirts Today, located in the Hamilton Cannery, the large brick building behind Columbia Paints on the corner of Pine and 1st Street. To reach Coalition or Administrative staff you may call 363-2793.
The 25th Anniversary Crystal Ball at the Bitterroot River Inn this Friday begins with a patron reception at 6:30 p.m. complete with martinis and a special appetizer. General admission begins at 7:00. There is a no-host bar sponsored by Sleeping Child Farms which will also provide the food, and music by the Big Sky Mudflaps. There will also be silent and live auctions of many donated items and services.
“There will be something for everybody,” said Umhey. “Of course, we want the donations but also we want it to be fun.” She said the organization’s 25th anniversary was a good time to honor all the people who have taken risks and made sacrifices, not only to help the shelter function, but also to help the organization grow over the years.
Tickets to the Crystal Ball are $75 per patron, $50 general admission, and $15 for dancing only (admission after 9:30 p.m.).