Choices, Page County’s Council on Domestic Violence, receives $403,000 in grants; expanding services

Page News and Courier

LURAY ― Page County's Council on Domestic Violence will get a financial boost in the new fiscal year, enabling the nonprofit organization to expand its services ― in volume and geographically.

This month, the state Criminal Justice Services Board approved $74 million statewide for crime prevention and victim assistance.

Choices will receive $403,000 in new money through a grant supported by funds from the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). Established in 1984, the $12 billion VOCA fund is made up of revenue generated by criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds, penalties and special forfeitures and assessments, as well as gifts and donations. Over the past three years, annual deposits to the fund have averaged $2.6 billion.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us,” said Director for Choices Debbie Dart. “Most nonprofit groups struggle ― and domestic violence programs struggle.

“This grant is a blessing.”

After launching in 1986, the 30-year-old organization has earmarked its new funds for projects and programs that will expand its reach in Page County, beginning with a new sister site in Shenandoah.

With a target opening of Aug. 1, Choices recently signed a lease for new office space, as well as an apartment, in the town. The second location will serve as a shelter and satellite office for those needing assistance in the southern end of the county.

“We want to reach more people, and we feel that there are a lot of people who can't reach us,” said Dart, noting that many clients struggle to find transportation to Luray, while others go without services because they are unable to make the trek.

The Choices staff is waiting to release more details about the shelter's location, said Dart.

“This is just the start of us really being able to make a difference,” said Chairperson for Choices' Board of Directors Karen Riddle. “Now, we can say to everyone needing services, 'We know that you matter,' and we are investing front and center on making a difference in Shenandoah.”

The group will also welcome two new staff members ― an advocate at the Shenandoah office and a community outreach and volunteer coordinator in Luray. Fulltime staff members ― most of who have worked for Choices for a decade or longer ― will additionally, for the first time, receive health benefits thanks to the grant.

Other projects in the works include upgrading the group's office and shelter space in its mid-1800's facility on Main Street. Choices will replace a furnace that broke in April, said Dart, as well as make moderate renovations.

New office space in the building next door will increase confidentiality for those receiving services, as well as provide more room for group meetings, programs and internal training. Choices recently signed a one-year lease for the building, and plan to begin utilizing it after July 1.

“These are really big steps for us,” said Dart, adding that since joining the organization 19 years ago, Choices has struggled each year to balance its budget. “We are going to be able to do so many things with these grant funds, which opens up more things for our general fund.”

In the past, continued Dart, the group's general fund ― made up primarily from fundraising events and community contributions ― went largely toward operating expenses. Now, that fund can go toward needs not covered by the grant, such as medical expenses. More than 90 percent of the women and children served by the nonprofit do not have health insurance, said Dart.

Choices will continue to rely on community support in the coming years. While the state met match requirements this year for the grant, nonprofit groups will likely have heftier match requirements in order to continue receiving funds in the next two years, said Dart. Choices was also able to secure this year's $403,000 allocation by meeting community support benchmarks ― something Dart says is invaluable for the women and children at Choices.

“We would not have been awarded this grant without this community,” said Riddle. “Now, their dollars are going to go even further.”

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