PPC shelter nears funding goal

The Family Service and Children's Aid Society project to build a new shelter for victims of domestic abuse is nearing completion. The facility, one that will replace a center in an older Oil City home, is located on part of the former Franklin Hospital tract. (Contributed photo)

A capital campaign to raise funds to build a $1.5 million shelter for victims of domestic or sexual violence and their children is nearing its goal.

However, the Oil City-based Family Service and Children's Aid Society is struggling to churn up another $258,267 to complete the fundraising campaign.

While not discouraged, the handful of empowered women leading the effort for the shelter is somewhat perplexed as to why local industry is not stepping up to help pay the bill.

The new two-story facility, now under construction on land that once held the Franklin Hospital, will have the capacity to serve more than 21 individuals, whether parents or children, at one time.

The building, one that features "no frills or extravagant amenities," offers more room, greater privacy, numerous counseling and support services, enhanced security and more.

It will replace an older Oil City home that offered safety and respite to families in turmoil since 1999.

The moving date to the new shelter is tentatively set in two weeks.

The campaign to raise funding for a new crisis shelter was launched in February 2018 with Marie Veon and Bonnie Summers as campaign co-chairs. The shelter is operated through Family Service and Children's Aid Society's PPC Violence Free Network.

"The agency put in $750,000, money we had been saving and gathering for eight years for this," said Mary K. Serafin, executive director of Family Service. "We have raised $492,000, ... have applied for an $80,000 grant and have some pledge promises out there. But, we still need to raise money."

The cost of purchasing the land, paying architectural fees and construction is pegged at $1,513,000. Still to be reckoned with is the cost for furnishing, appliances, security system, playground, paving and more.

"The largest donation was a recent $150,000 from the McElhattan Foundation while the smaller ones have been $25 online contributions," said Serafin. "We have been very nicely supported by churches and social clubs, too."

There are offers, too, for related help. Mustard Seed Mission volunteers will help build a storage shed on the premises. The state prison at Dallas, Pa., is making mattresses and bedding and will donate them at cost to the project.

Individuals as well as some businesses have also offered financial support, said Summers, noting Roser Technologies and Electralloy have been "generous."

Lack of business support

There is a lack, though, of largesse from what the women describe as "heavy duty manufacturing" concerns.

"We have explored fundraising with them and we thought they would step forward. But so many have not committed to this," said Summers. "We have received money from a lot of Venango County citizens but not its businesses."

Part of the issue could be, as Veon described, that a shelter for adults and children who are in peril as a result of domestic abuse is "not warm and fuzzy."

"Some of the big companies have stepped up and I'm not going to fault anyone. But I have wondered why our cause is not as important as others," Veon, a retired Venango County district attorney, said.

" I want to make people understand that this is really needed in our community and that it has too do with the future of Venango County and many of its children," Veon added. "A shelter - it doesn't sound warm and fuzzy like a playground project or an animal shelter. But life is not always warm and fuzzy and in this case, you are giving to the life of a community."

Still, there is a component in the crisis shelter philosophy that appeals to that side, said program director Crystal Patterson.

"Our shelter takes individuals who have service animals as well as families that won't leave a violent situation without their pets," Patterson said. "And the shelter is especially for children who are going through trauma. We provide support for these kids so they can come into a positive atmosphere. I would think there would be a greater response to that."

'A community issue'

The shelter has offered solace and safety to hundreds of adults and children over the years. The temporary lodgings can range from a few weeks to three months.

The new shelter prompted the first capital campaign launched by the not-for-profit Family Service, founded in 1887.

"This is an intimate subject and so many people pretend it is not a problem," said Patterson. "We are the only shelter facility for domestic violence victims in the county and we are typically full."

Patterson, charged with writing numerous proposals for charitable grants to help defray costs, said the appeal for financial support must be made community-wide.

"Domestic violence is a community issue, not just a one-family issue or a one-agency issue and so we need the whole community to support this," she said. "Everyone is touched by domestic violence, whether it's a relative or a friend or a neighbor. We really have to all pull together."

Serafin added, "Perhaps our county has become numb to the negative things, like drug abuse and domestic violence. Those are issues we deal with as we work so hard to get past them. The shelter is one way we do that and maybe fix that problem."

Campaign to continue

For Veon, the quest for additional funding is not something that will be repeated anytime soon.

"This is not an 'ask' we will do every year because we won't be back again and again trying to raise money. This (facility) will last many years," Veon said. "I think about when I was growing up and my mother would tell us that if we had a quarter, she expected us to give a nickel of that to a good cause. We'll take any amount of money you can spare. Many people pick their causes. I'm hoping they will pick ours."

While continuing to oversee the construction project, move out of the current shelter and consider other building-related issues, the capital campaign committee intends to further pursue public and private donations.

"No matter what, we will get this funded. We are positive because we are positive about our communities," said Summers.

Additional information about contributions, whether an offer of financial help or equipment/service provider, is available by contacting the Family Service office in Oil City.

Details about the project can also be obtained by contacting agency board members. They include Denise Jones, Courtney Cox, Charles Stubler, Robert Carone, Jennifer Cisek, David Heinzer, Marilyn Kirkwood, Vicky London, Steve Mason, Greg Merkel, Jeff Ruditis, Major Smith, Deb Sobina and Michael Watson.