Women’s Center announces community initiative to expand

Women’s Center announces community initiative to expand
Front, Lori Armstrong, Sarah Wiese; back: Nicki Mizell, Robin Graber, members of the Rape Recovery Team at the Women’s Center of Jacksonville

Each year The Women’s Center of Jacksonville hosts an appreciation event to thank its major donors and sponsors for their ongoing support. Although the Choc-olate and Champagne Reception this year followed Valentine’s Day by a week, it was no less sweet to unveil a new community initiative and expansion plan.

In October 2014, the Women’s Center took over the City of Jacksonville Victim Services Center on 10th Street to provide sexual assault forensic exams to survivors of sexual violence age 18 or older. In two years, the Springfield-based center had outgrown the demand.

“We are responding to a community need. Sexual assault is a community issue,” said Teresa Miles, Women’s Center executive director. “We have seen a 25 percent increase in sexual assaults in the fourth quarter 2016 over 2015.”

To address the need, the Center purchased another building specifically to house the sexual assault forensic exams. 

The state-of-the art facility at 5300 Emerson Street will include a forensic lab, sexual assault examiners, showers, counseling rooms, and will serve all genders, victims and adult survivors of sexual abuse as children. There is absolutely no cost to the survivors beginning to end, including one year of free counseling, said Miles. “We wanted to improve the environment for survivors, so they can walk in and know they are safe here.”

The idea, which has been percolating prior to Miles’ taking the leadership position in 2016, is a $3 million project that includes $500,000 for the purchase of and renovations to the 28-year-old former office building on the Southside, as well as funding for long-term operations sustainability.

“With every program we started, we really looked long term. We don’t want to start a program we don’t think we can sustain,” said Sharón Simmons, board member and a member of the Women’s Giving Alliance. “The main issue for funders is sustainability. We didn’t want to take this one on unless we knew we could sustain it.”

Simmons and former executive director Shirley Webb had independently come across the office building last summer and both knew it could be a good fit for the Women’s Center.

Right off I-95, near Beach Boulevard and Spring Glen Road, with two bus stops nearby, the new victim services center offers easy access for Duval County clients as well as those from Baker and Nassau Counties.

The down payment on the building was made possible through the last of a $500,000 challenge grant made by the Delores Barr Weaver Fund three years ago, but the financial need doesn’t stop with the purchase.

“We’re not just raising money to pay off the loan or for the renovations, but to have a state-of-the-art facility for years to come,” Miles said, referring to future fundraising efforts as a community initiative. “Our intent is to bring the community together to do this brick by brick.”

Simmons, who has expertise in real estate law, was instrumental in helping find the building, negotiate the purchase, set up building inspections, review the contracts and loan documents, and participate in a lengthy due diligence process before taking the potential purchase to the board in September 2016.

“They authorized us to negotiate up to a certain price, and we were able to get it below that,” said Simmons.

The Women’s Center is planning to meet in the next month with architects and contractors to begin the renovation process, so there is no timeline yet for occupancy.

“Some of our Rape Recovery Team advocates will move into the new space after it has been renovated,” said Miles.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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