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Women's shelter celebrates

Date: 11/16/2010

Nov. 17, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- Thirty years after three women formed Womanshelter/Companeras, the domestic violence shelter is celebrating courage at its 30th Anniversary Gala.

Melinda Thomas, the shelter's development coordinator, said, "We celebrate the courage of the founders, three young woman who had the chutzpah to ask for money for a hotline and shelter. We celebrate the courage of our staff, as it can be dangerous work. We celebrate the courage of our supporters."

Thomas added the celebration is also to note the courage of women who make the initial phone call to seek help to leave a violent situation.

The gala will be at the Log Cabin Meeting House from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 18. The event includes a seasonal full-course dinner, a silent auction and entertainment provided by rhythm and blues artist Latanya Farrell and the Bookman Styles Band. Tickets are $50 each and can be purchased by calling Womanshelter-Companeras at 538-9717 or online through the organization's Web site,
Rhythm and blues artist Latanya Farrell and the Bookman Styles Band will appear at 30th Anniversary Gala of Womanshelter/Companeras on Nov. 18.

Thomas said tickets are still available.

The silent auction will feature items such as airline tickets, dinner and entertainment packages and gift certificates for massage, yoga, pilates and reiki sessions.

Womanshelter houses 200 women and children a year from throughout Hampden County. It operates a confidential shelter to provide refuge to women from potential harm by their abusers.

The non-profit organization also helps more than 1,000 victims of domestic violence through community programs such as support groups and in-court advocacy and responds to more than 4,000 hotline calls a year.

The need for Womanshelter's services has increased, Thomas said. So far this year, there have been 24 domestic violence-related homicides in the state, while last year the number was 16, she said.

According to Jane Doe Inc., the statewide coalition of domestic violence service providers, in 2009, there were 301 unmet requests for services, attributed to a critical shortage of funds and staff for housing, childcare, mental health and substance abuse counseling and legal representation measured by the one-day National Census of Domestic Violence Services.

Womanshelter has on-going educational services for high school students to alert young women to the problem of domestic violence during dating. According to a 2008 study from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus, approximately one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

The shelter has also added programs to reach Russian-speaking victims. The most recent statistics from the State Department of Public Health show that while immigrants only comprise about 14 percent of the state's population, immigrants accounted for 26 percent of the 180 domestic violence deaths in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2006.

It also has started a program to help male victims of domestic violence.

Speaking of the gala, Womanshelter Executive President Karen B. Cavanaugh said, "We want people to dance, to celebrate the fact that we are still here providing services after 30 years."

The hotline number for women seeking help is 877-536-1628.

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