For 43 years,
Women's Advocates in St. Paul, Minn., has been a safe haven for women and children escaping domestic violence. The organization provides shelter and services to an average of 50 women and children daily and helps dozens of callers via a crisis prevention line. The past year has been a new chapter of sorts for the nonprofit.
In April 2017, Women's Advocates was named the Fourth Annual Building Award winner and was awarded $64,000 from the Opus Foundation®. In partnership with the Opus Foundation in 2015, we launched the Gerry Rauenhorst Building Community Award to honor our founder's legacy of giving and celebrate our organization's history. Each year, the award will provide one nonprofit organization with $1,000 for each year of that tradition.
Making Spaces Safer & More Comfortable for Residents & Staff Alike
“The Building Community Award from Opus has allowed us to make our spaces safer and more comfortable for residents and has also helped us upgrade technology for staff and residents," said Tom Brinker, development and volunteer coordinator for Women's Advocates. “With these basic resources in place or updated to the most recent standards, we can even more effectively focus on helping families heal after experiencing trauma."
Women's Advocates increased safety with a shock absorbent foundation on the playground and lighting on the long stairway leading up to the building for nighttime arrivals. Updates were also made to interior spaces, including purchasing new dressers and mattresses for residents' rooms and replacing outdated furniture in the living room. Wireless internet connectivity was added throughout the building so residents can access Wi-Fi on their devices, allowing them to use resources to build independence.
Women's Advocates was able to develop and install a new database system, assuring timely and accurate tracking of programmatic information. Data storage capabilities were also upgraded so their records management is up-to-date with best practices. And, they created a workspace and purchased a computer for a longtime staff member, greatly increasing her work effectiveness and efficiency.
Increased Awareness, Increased Need
All of this came at a time of increased need at the nonprofit. According to Brinker, recent media coverage and increased awareness has contributed to more requests for violence prevention assistance and education.
“Local and national media has heightened awareness about safety, consent, violence and what's healthy and unhealthy in relationships," said Brinker. “When we are at events or schools, conversations come up more organically than they did before. People are more comfortable sharing information because they've seen other people do it very publically."
Award Boosts Awareness
Increasing awareness about domestic abuse prevention and services is a priority for Women's Advocates. “We appreciated the attention from local media regarding the Building Community Award, which was preceded by weeks of social media promotion from our partners and supporters. Many new people learned about our cause for the first time," said Brinker. “The unique, crowd-sourced nomination and award process was a tremendous team building experience for all stakeholders and helped to increase awareness of our mission. It has also inspired other foundations and companies to consider Women's Advocates as a good resource for their philanthropy."
The Building Community Award has contributed to more stability for Women's Advocates, allowing them to prioritize their mission over fundraising. For instance, the Aftercare Program helps give women and children access to a continuum of care to maintain a life free from violence that is also stable and predictable. Housing is a big part of it, and in the last year, the program has built relationships with area landlords and seven community housing programs, advocating for safe housing while helping participants understand their leases and responsibilities.
Through creative planning, partnerships and perseverance, Women's Advocates has helped nearly 100 families in the past three years through the Aftercare Program.