Brittney Raby – Staff Writer
Before REACH of Macon County broke ground on a new 20-bed shelter, the entire $1.3 million project was fully funded, making it possible for a new facility serving Macon and Jackson counties to be constructed to completion.
“The new shelter was truly a community effort,” said Andrea Anderson, director of REACH. “Financial commitments of all amounts, volunteer time, and donations of household essentials – all of these things at every giving level made an impact. I feel when you walk into the shelter you can feel that support of the community – and we hope that helps survivors and their children know they are not alone.”
REACH held a ribbon cutting last Thursday to mark the opening of the new emergency shelter which serves women and children who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The shelter, named the VanDrake Shelter, will be in full operation by the end of the month.
REACH of Macon County was established in 1990 as a non-profit with a mission to eradicate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes in Macon and Jackson counties through prevention, intervention and education. REACH provides residents with an array of services including counseling, court advocacy, assistance with employment, education and housing, helping women and children live independent and violence free. In the last fiscal year, the non-profit served 968 new clients, providing 2,910 shelter nights and 8,730 meals in its original 12-bed shelter.
“We had to refer out 89 families last year due to lack of space,” said Anderson. “We do believe the new, expanded space will help meet that need.”
The shelter was designed to be a place of healing and where clients can readily access support services to achieve their goals. It reflects the commitment of REACH and the community to ensure a welcoming, accessible environment that provides dignity and empowerment for survivors and their children.
“The computer lab will make is easier for clients to access educational and employment opportunities, to look for permanent housing, and to identify and access other community support services,” said Anderson. “The computer lab will also be available to children and teenagers to use to complete their homework and strengthen their computer skills.”
Another feature offered at the new shelter is that all bedrooms have a private bathroom. “Many of our residents have experienced trauma – having your own bathroom and privacy can be critical to someone who has experienced intimate or sexual trauma,” explained Anderson. “The rooms with private bathrooms also gives families privacy, which is something all people deserve. It can be very challenging to live in a communal environment with children – having a little of your own family space can be very supportive for a family unit. The shelter is also ADA [Americans With Disabilities] accessible and has many features for those with mobility and other needs. This includes all common areas, individual rooms, and children’s play areas.”
Security is a top priority at the new shelter, and extensive measures have been taken to ensure that guests of the shelter not only feel safe and secure, but that the appropriate measures are taken to ensure safety. “The shelter is a completely access controlled facility,” said Anderson. “Only staff and current residents will be allowed on the shelter premises. We do have a extensive security system and we utilized the assistance of local law enforcement in our security planning.”
The amount needed to construct the shelter was reached before construction began last March, with grants, loans and community contributors making it all possible. “The major funder is N.C. Housing Finance Agency,” said Anderson. “We received a zero percent loan for approximately $750,000 – and it’s important to note that the loan never has to be repaid as long as the facility is used for what it was intended. VanDrake Enterprises was also a major funder and is the shelter’s namesake. With the support of Sen. Davis, the N.C. General Assembly contributed a direct allocation to the project. Other larger funders include Macon County Government, Jackson County Government, and the Cannon Foundation. We also had several individuals contributing funding of $10,000-plus including Gerry and Avary Doubleday ,Tom and Mary Quigley, Ray and Diane McPhail, and Tessentee Farms Wedding and Event Center.”
Mike Williams, Senior Vice President of SECU’s Franklin branch remarked, “We are proud to assist an organization that has the tools, resources and 25 years of experience in providing victims of abuse with the support they need to help strengthen and restore their lives. SECU Foundation’s partnership with the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency for the construction of VanDrake Shelter will help ensure that REACH of Macon County has a stronger impact in communities served.”
While the shelter is set to open at the end of the month, day-to-day items are still needed. “If anyone would like to support the current efforts we still need household items such as kitchen items, towels, basic linens, etc,” said Anderson. “As that we have almost doubled our space it does mean it increases our needs for all of those household items. In addition we are continuing to fundraise to fully fund the security system that was an expense in addition to the construction cost.”
For anyone wanting to donate items or who needs support services, they may call (828)369-5544.