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Organization is ‘empowering survivors’

Statistics show that one-in-three women and one-in-four men will experience rape, physical violence or stalking in their lifetime. 

Greenhouse17 is a community-driven and supported organization serving 17 counties across Central Kentucky offering support for those who are victims of domestic violence abuse. Director Darlene Thomas said the organization is more than a shelter feeding survivors three meals a day, it is a safe place where people are cared for and given opportunities to rebuild their lives.

“We don’t want you coming to the shelter unless there is no other way to keep you safe,” Thomas said. “A lot of the time people do not see the multiple avenues that are available to them. We can help process choices and options that are specific to you. We do not use a cookie cutter approach. Every survivor has a lot in common, but they also have a lot of differences.”

Thomas said that it is a misconception that domestic violence is higher on certain holidays or events, such as the Super Bowl.

“A lot of the time survivors will wait until their kids are home to leave.”

Thomas said Greenhouse17 started on the heels of a former program, a spouse abuse center, that had been in the community for 25 to 30 years. She said the community collaboration for Greenhouse17 started in 2004 and became official in 2005.

Serving the Bluegrass Area Development District, Greenhouse17 is part of a statewide coalition trying to ensure that there is a continuation of services that existed before, she said.

“We offer all the traditional services,” Thomas said. “Emergency 24-hour crisis line. In all 17 counties, we go to court and provide support groups and case management. We provide economic justice work and even a match-savings account program to help survivors.”

Thomas said the match-savings account provides a way for survivors to save their money and receive a match for the total amount saved in order to be used towards items which they needed such as a car or going back to school. She said the program focuses on getting victims back on their feet keeping them living in their community and out of a shelter if possible.

“We try to keep victims out of the shelter and in their home community safely,” Thomas said. “If there is a protective order or their partner has been arrested we want to keep them in their community and the kids in school safely without having to move and start all over again.”

She said if victims do choose to come to the shelter, there are several programs available to them. Greenhouse17 operates a farm and grows a lot of its own food offering those who attend an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and help.

“We are not a job program,” Thomas said. “They are not a workforce. This is all about healing. There is a lot of value in getting your hands dirty on the farm.”

Thomas said Greenhouse17 also offers a stipend program which allows survivors to build a stipend until they are back on their feet.

“We are the only domestic violence program in the nation that will pay stipends,” Thomas said.

Andrea Lewis, the domestic violence advocate for Jessamine County through Greenhouse17, said she became involved for several reasons. One of which is that she is a survivor, too.

“I didn’t know that there were programs to help,” Lewis said. “I wish I would have known at the time there are services out there to help me. And to help other people that are going through this.”

Completing her undergraduate in sociology, Lewis said she has come full circle working for Greenhouse17. She said volunteering for a domestic violence shelter helped get her foot in the door to help people.

Lewis said working for an organization like Greenhouse17 is great for her because she loves the organization is very feminist driven and its mission focuses on empowering survivors.

For those currently experiencing domestic violence, Lewis said she would tell them there is hope.

Not all domestic violence is physical, she said. In some cases, it is emotional, verbal, economic or even spiritual.

“There are people out there that are available to help and that want to help so don’t hesitate to reach out,” Lewis said. “You don’t have to necessarily go to a shelter to receive services that you need. I would encourage people to reach out whenever they are ready and we will be there to help.”

For help, call the 24-Hour Hotline at 800-544-2022.