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In 1979, a group formed and began meeting to address the problem of domestic violence in Hillsdale County. Members of the group included: formerly battered women, social service, mental health, law enforcement professionals and feminists. The group organized training for volunteers in November 1979 in preparation of opening a 24-hour crisis line. The line was open December 1, 1979 and we helped our first domestic violence victim on December 8th. We had three volunteer safe homes in which to place people for up to three days.
In January of 1980, we received a grant from the Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board of the State of Michigan. This grant has increased over the years and continues to be our largest single source of funding. It was this year that we rented an office in downtown Hillsdale and hired two part time coordinators, and a half-time secretary.
In 1981 (first full year) we worked with 102 women. We held volunteer training and used between 5 and 8 safe homes available to us. Occasionally we transported a family to the Jackson AWARE shelter for longer housing.
In 1983 we began renting a house for a shelter and moved our offices into this location, this is where we remain today. The services that we offer have increased. We began contracting to a local counselor to run a batterers group in 1984.
In 1986, a batterer broke into our shelter and athough no one was hurt, the experience was frightening. We endeavored to make the shelter more secure, a decision which led to the desire to purchase the shelter. Consequently, we began making plans for a capitol fund campaign to raise funds to purchase and renovate the shelter. The campaign took place in 1986-87 and raised $92,000. In the spring, we purchased the house and began construction in 1987. Among the renovations were; a back stairway to the new living room, additional offices with staff bathroom and a ramp was added to the rear of the building. In November we hired a part time Children’s Advocate to work with the children and the mothers on parenting issues. In August we were able to hire a part time counselor to provide individual and group counseling with a grant from VOCA.
In 1988 we began offering a prevention education program to all area school. In 1990 we added a part-time volunteer coordinator to train and organize local volunteers.
In 1993 we sponsored a two-day DV training with Ellen Pence, Duluth MN. Later that year we assisted the prosecutor in adapting a pro-arrest policy, followed by police training with DH assistance. In 1994 we added a part-time legal advocate to our staff. In 1997 we were funded by STOP to provide a victim advocate at the prosecutor’s office. This grant also resulted in having a toll free line available.
In December of 1998, our founder, Kristin Lucas, resigned after 19 years of directing Domestic Harmony. In January of 2000, Renee Batt was hired as the third Executive Director. Also in 2000, we held a DV workshop for police and other community members. In 2012, Julia Denig, stepped in as our Executive Director. She has been employed by Domestic Harmony for a little over twelve years. Our Board of Directors consists of thirteen community members who give generously of their time to ensure our continued operation.
Most recently, Domestic Harmony has seen many wonderful updates to the shelter. We were the recipient of the Mary Kay grant, which allowed for us to have a new roof put on. We have been fortunate to have a wonderful group of people from the Hillsdale First Presbyterian Church come in and remodel the shelter including; updating the flooring, painting and decorating. In 2016, we received a grant from the HCCF that provided funding for new windows to be installed in the shelter. Also in 2016, we were awarded another Mary Kay grant that will help with the costs of additional flooring updates. The Mary Kay grant will also help with the cost of adding a ramp for easier access to our shelter.
We have been the recipient of grants through the Hillsdale County Community Foundation. One of which allowed us to participate with the national NO MORE campaign, we had two respected members of the community, Honorable Judge Michael Smith and City Police Chief Scott Hephner, speak out on ending domestic violence.
We are currently a staff of nine, hard working individuals who believe in the work we do. In 2014, we were saddened at the sudden passing of fellow staff member, Ms. Aimee England. Aimee served as our Volunteer Coordinator and Weekend Worker. Before becoming an employee, she had served as a volunteer for more than twenty-five years. The staff and Hillsdale community continue to miss her warmth and generosity.
As we move forward in this work, the staff and board of directors would like for the Hillsdale community to know how much we appreciate the tremendous support they continue to provide our shelter with!