So much has happened in the past 12 months both internally and externally to Victim Service delivery in Iowa. Statewide restructuring took place and as a result the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center is now the designated shelter for 20 north central Iowa counties.
We are busy and challenged to meet the needs of women and children fleeing from domestic violence and chronic homelessness. Ninety percent of the families seeking shelter are homeless or have experienced homelessness repeatedly in the past few years. It is not unusual to have families that have spent the past few years in shelters across the state and occasionally from another state. Domestic violence and homelessness walk hand in hand. When you think of us remember that children from families where domestic violence is a norm experience homelessness at a much higher rate than homes without violence. This is what the Cake Auction is about. Providing for those families.
Our program relies on donations and fundraising for nearly 50 percent of our budget. Between 30,000 and 60,000 nonprofits disappeared last year and more than two-thirds of all charitable nonprofits experienced decreasing or stagnant contributions in the first nine months of 2013. When you are working for an important cause like D/SAOC you can't depend on fundraising being stable or unstable. We are doing something good for the families we serve and we believe in it. Even in the worst of times we accomplish something worthwhile. It is the small actions every day that make our mission worthwhile. There is no solid explanation why some people say "yes" when we call for donations and prizes for the Cake Auction. They just do. Doing good doesn't entitle us to donations from everyone we call, but it is very difficult when the world does not easily accept the good domestic violence programs do.
When we are in this environment everyday it seems as clear as a bell how much help these families need and how much help we need to provide a safe home for these women and children. This year so many children have stayed with us. More children than ever before. It is joyful and devastating at the same time. Joyful when they get off the school bus, run in the door hugging staff and telling us about their day. Devastating because we are a shelter and not their home and they are going upstairs to one or two rooms housing them with their mother and siblings. We have few extras for them. No weekend outings with their family to the movies or skating or dinner. No weekends at a waterpark while Mom and Dad sit by the pool. It is a safe environment but not a normal life but imagine if that is all you know. For some it is the only life they remember. That is not an exaggeration but a fact of some families' lives.
No matter how creative we try to be, how much effort we put into fundraising and how big the Cake Auction seems there are five no's to one yes for donations. I know we are a thorn in your side, pesky and unrelenting when we fundraise but we have no choice. We must fundraise to support this program. It is our job not our joy. Rejection is horrible. It is painful, embarrassing and adds to the stress of our lives knowing we must provide to the best of our ability services including food, shelter, clothes, medicine, heat, water and a safe environment not to mention the financial assistance we occasionally provide to reduce barriers to safe housing.
I understand it is hard to accept that people can't get back on their feet, but sometimes they can't without help. If it were that easy we wouldn't need any shelters. We do need shelters and for me it is the children who miss out on the experience of home and family. We do birthday parties and every holiday is acknowledged for the kids, but nonetheless living in a house with 20 plus other children and their mothers isn't what I call special.
If you go:
What: 19th annual D/SAOC Cake Auction
When: Saturday - Doors open at 5 p.m. Live auction is at 6 p.m.
Where: New location - Iowa Central Community College East Campus, 2013 Quail Ave.
The financial success of a nonprofit is a community effort and a program effort. Everyone working at D/SAOC understands the critical role money plays in our program and how they fit into this effort. Everyone helps secure donations for the Cake Auction.
Over the years I have tried to tell our story effectively, but I cannot seem to get it right or convey the passionate dedication to this cause we all feel at D/SAOC. I want all of you to understand the value D/SAOC brings to this community of women and children. Yes we serve men and welcome them, but more than 99 percent of the clients we serve are women and children. I wish I could tell you their individual stories. but I can't. I wish you would volunteer and see the challenges women face daily trying to put their lives right and support their children.
No one ever asks why aren't the dads sending support? Interesting question though. Kind of speaks to our understanding of domestic violence in our society doesn't it? They are alone, more alone than anyone can imagine. With that in mind, understand why we ask for donations, call for prizes and cakes. More than 2,000 new clients received services from D/SAOC last year. That's a lot of food and water and all that goes with running a shelter. Somebody has to pay the heat and the phone and the maintenance of this shelter. Can you visualize more than 3,500 nights of visitors in your home a year? Lots of flushing, right? This old house keeps hanging on and so do we. Can you hang on with us? Come to our Cake Auction, donate a few dollars, call us if you want to get rid of some used furniture and donate at the Key on Central.
When I say every little bit helps, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
Thanks for all you do for us. We would not be successful without your kindness.
Connie Harris is executive director of D/SAOC.