MONROE, Ga. — If you call, they will listen.
That’s the message Project ReNeWal wants survivors of domestic violence to hear.
“When someone is calling us in the middle of the night they generally come in with only what’s on their backs,” Project ReNeWal Executive Director Ashley Dykes said. “We try and make them feel that this is their safe place.”
The domestic violence intervention program serves residents in Rockdale, Newton, and Walton counties. The organization was founded 26 years ago as the area’s first tri-county shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Dykes said the organization served more than 3,500 people in 2020, and 808 of those were Walton County residents.
Dykes attended a regular Monroe City Council meeting on Oct. 12, when Mayor John Howard read a proclamation recognizing October as Domestic Violence Prevention Month.
Howard shared some sobering statistics contained in the proclamation. In the U.S. an average of 20 people experience intimate partner physical violence every minute which equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually, according to the mayor.
“Of those victims, nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes,” he said.
“Domestic violence traumatizes children in these families,” Howard continued. “Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of age, race, sex, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or religion.”
Dykes told The Walton Tribune this week that any time a child is present during a domestic violence situation, they are considered to be a victim of abuse.
“In 2018 in Georgia, 37% of domestic violence victims were children,” she said. Over 15 million children nationwide are affected by domestic violence each year, according to Dykes.
Dykes said domestic violence’s impact on children is sometimes discovered through the schools.
“You see them acting out in school,” she said.
Small children might revert to infantile behavior like bedwetting and thumb sucking, and older kids may withdraw or suffer physical symptoms like headaches, Dykes said. Teenagers may bully others or engage in risky behaviors.
“Girls may become withdrawn and depressed,” she said.
Dykes said that 21% of teenage girls and 10% of teenage boys experience physical and/or sexual dating violence. She added that children who experience domestic violence in the home are at greater risk of developing health issues as adults.
“It’s cyclical and generational,” Dykes said. “They are more likely to get into domestic violence situations as adults because they think it is acceptable behavior.”
Dykes said she earned her degree in psychology and has a background in social work having worked for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
“It’s all about power and control for the abuser,” Dykes said.
She said it takes a survivor an average of seven attempts to successfully leave their abuser.
“And we’ll help them each and every time,” Dykes said. “Even if they go back, they can call us again.”
Dykes and her staff help clients develop safety plans and find them emergency shelter if needed.
“We try and help them get back on their feet,” she said. “So when they leave, they know they can survive without their abuser.”
Project ReNeWal helps clients with job search and resume building, and assistance with rent, utilities and moving expenses. Domestic violence victims often deal with emotional and financial abuse, as well as physical abuse, Dykes said.
“Even through COVID, we didn’t shut down,” she said. “We’ve had to socially distance and follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for that purpose.”
Project ReNeWal offers clients case management services, such as connecting survivors to additional resources and providing transportation to medical appointments.
“We have a child specialist that helps with the children,” Dykes said. The organization also provides clients clothing and toiletries when needed.
“We have a transition coordinator,” Dykes said. “We follow them for a year even after they leave the shelter. We have outreach services and peer support groups throughout all three counties.”
Project ReNeWal received some CARES Act funding, and receives federal and state grants as well as donations. The shelter is a United Way agency in Walton County.
The organization also holds an annual Dancing with the Stars fundraiser.
“We were unable to do our 2020 Dancing with the Stars in March 2020,” Dykes said. “We are planning on having our next one on Feb. 26, 2022. We have dancers from all three counties.”
The fundraiser will be held at the Porter Performing Arts Center in Newton County. Event sponsorships are available and attendees can vote for their favorite dancer.
If you are being abused and are a resident of Walton, Newton or Rockdale counties, call Project ReNeWal’s hotline at 770-860-1666. Learn more at projectrenewalgeorgia.com.