Puckett, a Safe Passage board member, was surrounded by several hundred decorated T-shirts blowing from clotheslines strung around Horseshoe Bend's Garden Club Park, on Friday, Oct. 7.
Safe Passage is a six-year- old organization that assists victims of domestic violence in Izard and Fulton Counties. It obtained the T-shirts from the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Besides displaying the T-shirts, Safe Passage members spent the day in the park, hoping to let more people know that they are available to assist domestic violence victims. Safe Passage services include helping victims obtain court orders of protection, offering shelter and counseling and assisting victims with jobs and other needs.
The T-shirts displayed on the 15th bear the artistry of women and children who use photographs, paint and other decorations to express their emotions about the domestic violence deaths of loved ones, or their own pain and efforts to leave bad relationships and heal.
"This one-month-old is the youngest victim. Another T-shirt is in memory of the oldest, an 80-year-old woman, who bailed her grandson out of jail, and was stabbed to death by him," said Puckett. "It's heartwrenching what pain domestic violence causes."
Last year, Safe Passage assisted 131 women, 25 men and 172 children.
All too often, victims leave their abusers, only to return out of fear or foregivness, or the inability to support themselves and their children.
"But there are success stories," said Safe Passage Director Lorri Rorie. "It sometimes takes several tries, but we do help people break the cycle of domestic violence. We see that we are having a positive impact and that keeps us going."
Rorie is quick to mention one success story. "In 2007, a battered woman came to our shelter and we helped her get stabilized," said Rorie. "She eventually left the state, but, last year, she returned, and she now works for us, helping other victims."
As they worry about domestic violence victims, Safe Passage supporters are also concerned about the futue of their organization.
Rorie and Christy Puckett, who both worked at Batesville's Family Violence Prevention program, teamed up in 2003 to begin the ground work that led to Safe Passage. It opened its first shelter in 2005, after landing a two year federal grant.
Besides offering a shelter for victims, Safe Passage now operates an outreach office and thrift store on Main Street in Melbourne. Thanks to space provided by the Salem First Baptist Church, it also has an office to serve Fulton County residents who are in need of help or information.
|"It has never been easy. We have had to move our shelter twice, and we are constantly looking for ways to finance our operations," Rorie said. "But we are really hurting financially, right now."|
Safe Passage's original grant ended in 2007. It currently has a grant through the Arkansas Coalition, which partly covers the salaries of staff members. A Violence Against Women Act Grant pays for Anna Martin, the Fulton County Victim Services Coordinator.
But, this year, Safe Passage lost a Social Services Block Grant, and it is finding less money is available to non-profit organizations that help those in need.
At its Project Clothesline event in Horseshoe Bend, Safe Passage was selling T-shirts and purple ribbon car magnets, but the organization, which tries to work quietly, is seeking a higher profile in the community.
"We are planning some major fundraisers to try to stay open," said Rorie. "We are going to have one in Salem in the next month or so."
Safe Passage is also speaking to businesses and organizations, hoping to gain more community support.
"We have faced this before," said Rorie, who remains optimistic. "We've always found a way when there seemed to be no way (to keep going.)
To make a contribution or seek information about Safe Passage, call its hotline at 870-368-3222.