by: Anne Parsons Radojcsics
On July 5, 1978 Jay Purcell at Information Place said, “the most serious need of women in our community was shelter.”
On October 2 of that year we met for a goal setting sessions with representatives of Mental Health, HEW, Harbor House, Salvation Army, LIFT, and the Health Department. All these agencies were getting calls about abused women.
Twelve board of directors met on March 5, 1979 to elect themselves, draw up incorporation papers, a charter and bylaws. Officers elected were Connie Spires, President; Anne Radojcsics, Vice-President; Jay Purcell, Secretary; and Joyce Aron, Treasurer.
It began, in September, 1979, with $1,000.00 grant from the American Association of University Women to train volunteers. Another $1,000.00 was a gift from the Rotary Club. We began a series of public meetings. I can still hear the man who thundered, “There are no battered women in Lee County!” We changed our name from Aid to Battered Women, Inc. to Project SAFE, Inc.
In October, 1979, we began to renovate the unused house behind the Episcopal Church but weren’t ready to move in until August, 1980. This became our office, crisis line center, and training site for volunteers. But chuch members were unwilling for abused women to be housed there.
The Salvation Army wanted a shelter and purchased a trailer which they placed behind their thrift store on Day Brite Dr. They allowed our women to stay three days. There was no telephone for client use so it was difficult for them to make plans. There wasn’t room for a shelter resident and it was not safe because the Salvation Army staff went home at 5:00 p.m. That winter the pipes burst and that shelter was never reopened.
We were constantly searching for funds, training volunteers, giving speeches with our 2”x2” slide show for community groups, and publicizing the presence of violence.
We hired Jay Purcell as part time director November, 1981. We moved our office to the LIFT offices, who helped with services and space.
We moved into our first rent shelter on South Green St. in 1982. In July we hired our first full-time director and when the gift refrigerator was plugged in, the shelter opened. The following spring we were funded for a sexual assault program.
Jay Purcell was killed May 20, 1983, in an automobile accident on the Natchez Trace. The future office building would be named for her ten years later.
Our FY 83-84 budget was $45,500.00. 75% of our clients were from Lee County, and 19 days was the average length of stay. But for women with children and no resources, the average stay was 45 days or longer. We needed space.
We rented a larger house on Church St. for $400.00 a month and with a FY 84-85 $62,000.00 budget we were able to hire a third staff person to stay at the shelter at night, providing 24 hour on-premises staff coverage. We had office, sleeping, living and storage space. But an afternoon fire on July 12, 1985 destroyed this shelter. Dr. John Armistead offered 20 women and children clients in the shelter temporary space at Calvary Church.
The Board wanted to purchase a shelter and we began a fund raising effort in the community. By September, 1985 we had $60,000.00.
In 1986 we nestled into our new shelter with a new executive director, social worker, shelter manager, and week-end staff. We had a fund raising banquet September 16 at the Natchez Trace Inn. We hired a CPA to help us implement good accounting procedures. August statistics that year showed 28 children representing 15 families in the shelter. We held an open house at the shelter November 9th, and 6 women and 13 children spent Christmas with us that year.
Our FY 86-87 budget was $128,000.00. We talked of a children’s Center, a room to interview sexually abused children, cooperating with agencies like Welfare, law enforcement, the D.A.’s office, Health Dept., and mental health. We still relied heavily on our volunteers. By February, 1987, our debt on the house was reduced to $30,000.00.
Total budget for FY 87-88 was $168,000.00. Debt on the house was reduced to $16,000.00; August, 1989, to $8000.00; January, 1990, to $5000.00; and finally in January, 1991, the shelter was paid for.
Our shelter is a palace compared to the shelters we have had. We are blessed with sound programs because we have a caring and competent staff. We are providing a community need.
SAFE purchased a building on Clark Place for office space. By October 1996 the Jay Purcell Office building was dedicated, the renovation made possible by a gift from the R.L. Carpenter Foundation.