DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — When her loved one threw her down a flight of stairs and broke her ribs and later shoved her into a baseboard heater, damaging her shoulder, Sue, 53, reached out for help.
It was one of the few times the independent woman had asked for help, and she found it at Womancare Aegis, a community-based organization in Dover-Foxcroft that’s working to end domestic violence.
“I walked into the office one day a little over a year ago, and I just started crying and I said I need a home, someplace to be safe,” Sue recalled. “That’s when my journey started.”
After learning about her marital problems, Womancare rented a moving truck so Sue and her neighbors could move her belongings while her husband was at work. Womancare then put Sue up in transitional housing, where she continues to live. Her home is close enough for her to participate in the organization’s support group for battered women.
“It’s been life-changing for me,” she said Tuesday.
Sue, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity, said she has always been a “homebody.” She had operated a day care business in earlier years so she could stay home and raise her two daughters.
She also grew her own vegetables. Knowing that home was so important to her, Womancare fixed a clothesline in her new backyard so she could hang her laundry and then rototilled garden plots so she could continue growing her own food.
It is her testimonial and those of others that show how vital Womancare, which turns 30 this month, has been in the Piscataquis County region, supporters say. The milestone is notable also because the organization soon will be in a new home on the Mayo Regional Hospital campus. The public is invited to an open house and a cookout from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 28.
The organization was launched initially to address issues facing women, especially in the wake of the women’s movement, but it quickly focused on services for battered women. After Womancare incorporated as a nonprofit, it operated from a small, damp room in the basement of the Dover-Foxcroft Congregational Church before moving to the second floor of the former Koritsky building. When space became too cramped there, the organization moved to its present location on Winter Street.
Because the Winter Street office, in a rented apartment building, offered little space for confidential discussions with clients, community members rallied with the “A New Day” capital campaign to raise $420,000 through grants and fundraising to build a new home. That challenge was met and a bright and spacious building will serve the organization starting later this week.
Inmates from the Charleston Correctional Facility will move the organization’s belongings to the new quarters, just as they did during the two previous moves.
The moves have left many memories. Cynthia Freeman Cyr, resource development coordinator, and Ginger Hutchins, volunteer coordinator, recalled Tuesday the many changes that have occurred over the years in the direction of the organization and in its supporters.
“It’s a major shift from the early days, for sure, when we were working in isolation basically, and now there are many people that have come to this table with us to help create social change,” said Cyr, who has worked with Womancare since 1996.
Today, law enforcement, the district attorney, the jail, the Sheriff’s Department, the courts and local doctors are all on board and support the organization. All recognize that behind domestic violence there is often mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse, and those need to be addressed to make the community healthy, Cyr said.
Hutchins, who is celebrating her 20th year with the organization, has seen Womancare grow from four to eight employees and the services expand to include a 24-hour crisis help line, support groups, legal advocacy, shelters, school-based education for early intervention, and the Harmony Camp for children. It also has grown to include outreach offices in the rim communities of Dexter, Milo and Greenville.
Much of the organization’s $420,000 budget is used to support its services, which are provided to about 450 people, men and women.
One of those individuals served, Laurie Sokolski, came back to work as financial coordinator for Womancare. “It was amazing work that they did,” she said Tuesday. She enrolled in the organization’s volunteer training program. “I just really wanted to give back the work Womancare did for me,” she said. “What an awesome journey to go from victim, to survivor, to cleaning lady [for Womancare] to employee.”
Cyr said that when the organizers started Womancare, their goal was to work themselves out of a job. Although that has not yet happened, the goal stands. As more and more people become invested in eliminating domestic violence, Cyr said it just might be possible on her watch.