She had an MBA, a good job and a nice suburban home, but behind the pretty façade lived a dark secret: an abusive husband. His threats to kill her children kept her tethered to the marriage for many years, until she found A Safe Place and with it the strength and encouragement she needed to put herself and her children first.
The woman described her journey on a private, filled-to-capacity bus tour hosted by the Chicago Bears and A Safe Place, the largest domestic violence agency in Lake County. (She requested anonymity to protect her children.) The event on October 24 enabled community leaders to “take a walk in a victim’s shoes” by traveling to an emergency shelter and a family visitation center, and it culminated with dinner at Halas Hall, headquarters of the Chicago Bears.
A Safe Place began 39 years ago. Last year it served more than 14,000 people – a group comprising 80 percent women and 20 percent men.
“People come to the Emergency Shelter in Lake County when they are leaving their relationship and their lives are in danger,” said Pat Davenport, CEO of the non-profit agency.
The agency’s services and housing programs are located in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Highland Park, Deerfield and other communities in the southern part of the county.
“Many times, victims from these communities do not want to go to a shelter in an unfamiliar area, but feel more comfortable going to a Safe House closer to home,” said Davenport.
In the emergency shelter, the majority of residents are children. Though the surroundings look warm and inviting, it’s the last place the residents want to be, according to Dr. Ozella R. Barnes, chief operating officer.
“Usually you’re coming with whatever you have on your back, and your little ones,” said Dr. Barnes. “You could be pregnant and it’s usually the worst day of your life.”
The perpetrators usually are fathers, uncles, brothers — men who will remain present in the lives of children. “We work with the whole cycle to help children who are caught in the middle and are the voices that don’t get heard,” said Dr. Barnes. “A Safe Place provides safer living environments for children and also helps in treating parents.”
Additionally, A Safe Place offers clients individual, family and group counseling. Child therapists are located upstairs in the emergency shelter, and staff offices are located on the first floor.
Families can stay up to 90 days, with an extension of a week or two if someone is transitioning to a new residence. There are no fees, and the emergency shelter can house up to 35 people.
Last year the Chicago Bears donated security cameras to the shelter.
The Bears have been involved with A Safe Place for nearly 30 years, but they became even more involved in the past four years. Dr. Barnes has trained the team and has been a consultant in terms of domestic violence.
On June 23, about 60 people from Halas Hall and Soldier Field remodeled the upstairs of the emergency shelter. Bears Chairman George McCaskey removed the kitchen floor. The facility had not been remodeled in almost 20 years and it was very rundown. Davenport said George McCaskey has also offered to rip out the carpeting, to make way for new carpeting that has been donated.
At the Halas Hall dinner reception in Lake Forest on October 24, the keynote speaker was Bears Vice President Brian McCaskey. He shared some startling statistics.
In Lake County there will be approximately 117,000 women, almost 90,000 men and most importantly 60,000 children who are victims of domestic violence in this upcoming year. In 2015, A Safe Place helped 13,635 children. In 2016, it was 14,533.
“We recognize that A Safe Place is a leader in issues that relate to domestic violence and certainly a leader in Lake County,” said Brian McCaskey. “Our goal is to find new board members for A Safe Place. We’d love to have you as a supporter through your company, or as a volunteer. We’d love to have your time, your talent or your treasure.”
Former Chicago Bear Jim Althoff, also in attendance at the Halas Hall dinner, once helped build a playground for A Safe Place. “We brought in some season ticket holders and they were working side by side with alumni,” said Brian McCaskey. Funds were donated by the Bears and the Minsky family.
“Mr. Gene” Minsky is the mentor-coordinator for A Safe Place. He introduced the group to 15-year-old Daniel, “one of our success stories” at the Family Visitation Center in Mundelein.
Daniel said he became best friends with “Mr. Gene”, who told him about the Mentor/Mentee program that groups kids with positive role models. When Daniel felt he was too old to stay in the group, he kept in touch with his friend, now known as “Uncle Gene.”
“We (have) dinners together and his front door is open to me, because we were family at that point,” said Daniel.
Davenport added that A Safe Place is always looking for funding and grants to support the mentoring program for boys, and that the organization would like to do a mentoring program for girls as well.
The Family Visitation Center is a safe environment for supervised visitations and monitored child custody exchanges for families with a history of abuse.
“Children sometimes don’t want to come into the visitation room, but this is a safe place where we can plant seeds of hope and change while we watch families rebuild their relationships,” said Lisa Raddatz, director of the center.
Davenport said she has worked in 45 states and 15 countries with many domestic violence agencies, and none of them offer as comprehensive services as A Safe Place. She added that 94 percent of A Safe Place’s clients do not return to their abusers.
For more information visit: www.asafeplaceforhelp.org.
Gene Minsky, mentor coordinator, A Safe Place; with Daniel, whom he has mentored; and Staley da Bear at Halas Hall; all photos courtesy of A Safe Place