After nearly 10 years of planning, fundraising and strategizing, Family Service and Children's Aid Society of Venango County will open a new shelter for area victims of domestic abuse on July 23 in Franklin. A public open house is set for that day.

"It is very difficult to see people being hurt, and we've been blessed with the support to help those individuals," said Bonnie Summers, who serves as co-chairman with Marie Veon of the agency's shelter building committee.

The $1.5 million shelter, a two-story building that has the capacity to serve more than 21 individuals, including children, is on part of a tract that formerly housed the Franklin Hospital on Prospect Street.

It replaced an older and sprawling home on Oil City's North Side that had served as a shelter since 1999. That home, built by oilman William Hasson, has been sold to a family.

The new no-frills shelter offers safety and respite to families in turmoil because of domestic or sexual abuse. Despite the lack of extravagant amenities, the housing center is handicapped-accessible, offers privacy and provides security.

"Most of the furniture is now in and the security system is being fine-tuned," said Mary K. Serafin, executive director of the Oil City-based Family Service and Children's Aid Society. "We are nearly completely ready."

In planning for a new shelter, the nonprofit agency squirreled away $750,000 by saving money specifically tagged to the project over the years.

In addition, the organization has raised more than $500,000 from charitable trusts as well as private contributions from businesses, individuals, social clubs, churches and more.

There have been in-kind contributions, too. Last month, Mustard Seed Mission volunteers constructed a storage shed on the premises.

The previous shelter was "typically full" and that trend will continue at the new housing, said Crystal Patterson, program director. The temporary lodgings can range from a few weeks to three months, and over the years have provided refuge to hundreds of victims of violence.

In addition, numerous support services are provided to the men, women and children who are referred to the shelter by law enforcement and social service agency personnel.

Funds still needed

The agency is still looking for about $200,000 to complete the project, said Summers.

"We have the foundation of this project done, but we need to finish it. For example, we want to have a playground for the children at the shelter and we need some landscaping done," she said. "I would hope that our community, especially our businesses, would come forward to help."

For Serafin, much gratification has come from how area churches and charitable foundations have offered financial assistance for the new shelter.

"Our long-standing relationship with those two groups has been wonderful," said Serafin. "It shows what they think about us and what we do and why this shelter is important. ... We reached 85 percent of our goal and we will keep trying to raise all of it. I stress, too, that it is not too late to still help."

Patterson, whose expertise at obtaining grants has pumped up the capital campaign from the start, believes some individuals, organizations and businesses are hesitant to contribute because "the subject is hard."

"This is such an intimate subject - abuse - that some find it hard to have that conversation," said Patterson. "Domestic violence, though, is a community issue, not just a one-person or family problem. So come to our open house, see what we are doing and, bring your checkbook."