ST. LOUIS — Our 'A Way Forward' series focuses on the organizations in our area and the impact they are making.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in this spotlight, we highlight St. Martha's Hall, a non-profit agency trying to break the cycle of abuse.
For over 38 years, the mission for St. Martha's Hall has always been to help women and children.
Executive Director Jessica Woolbright has been with the organization for 21 years and says, "I believe we are saving lives every day. On average, we serve 100 women and 150 children a year."
The agency empowers them and gives them a place to call home, too.
The shelter involves a standard stay of 12 weeks including:
- Three meals a day
- Individual bedrooms
- A living room, dining room, kitchen, playroom
- Counseling rooms
- A fenced backyard
- Personal hygiene items
- Emergency clothing
- School supplies
- Limited emergency transportation
- Voice mail for residents to receive messages and a post office box to receive mail
Beyond that, they offer weekly support groups and parenting groups.
"And we have a legal advocate filing orders of protection and taking them to the hearings," Woolbright adds.
Plus, there's a 24-hour crisis number.
"You don't have to call us for shelter," Woolbright explains. "If you just need someone to listen, someone who won't judge and need resources if you want, but knowing that someone who cares makes a huge difference knowing they aren't alone."
In the last year, St. Louis has seen six double or triple homicides all connected to domestic violence. These are the cases that we know of.
"In reality, women stay because they are at more risk when they leave. I do not say that to discourage anybody from leaving, but we want her to have a plan," Woolbright says.
The organization arms families with a safety plan.
One is especially needed when a victim is trying to gain back control. That can be when an order of protection is filed, a break up or divorce is wanted, or having some police cooperation.
The goal is to empower these families and continue helping even more.
"In January of next year, we will be opening our very first drop-in center," Woolbright adds. "It will offer all the services that we offer in shelter, but for women who don’t need that shelter piece."
The drop-in center will be at the campus of Assumption Catholic Church on Mattis Road in South County.
It'll also provide workshops for family members or friends who need concrete ways to help loved ones in domestic violence relationships.
If the community wants to step up, Oct. 26 is one great day to do it.
For the first time, St. Martha's Hall is doing a 24-hour online fundraising campaign to raise money for the center.
Long-time donors are providing a matching donation that can be up to four times, with a potential of a bonus round.
That will start at 2 p.m. on Oct. 26. You can find that link here.
But the biggest call to action is to continue raising awareness to break the cycle.
"I truly believe violence grows in silence and we have to break that silence," Woolbright says.
Approximately 1 in 4 women (23% or 2.2 million women) and 1 in 13 men experience intimate partner violence in the United States.
According to the national domestic violence hotline, on average, it takes a victim seven times to leave.
If you want to call St. Martha's Hall to volunteer or seek help, you can contact them at 314-533-1313.
If you are calling for assistance, Woolbright urges you do it in a safe place.