By Emma Castleberry
Safelight is the only nonprofit organization in Henderson County offering comprehensive programming for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. In its nearly 40 years of operation, Safelight has served more than 40,000 survivors. “We have evolved from a strictly crisis-driven agency to one that develops and delivers long-term services addressing community needs for survivors,” says executive director Lauren Wilkie. This continuum of services is extensive and includes case management, counseling, housing and employment services for men, women and children. Safelight also operates a dormitory shelter with 40 beds; a crisis hotline; a counseling center; a Child Advocacy Center providing child medical exams and forensic interviewing; a Family Justice Center with legal advocates; a variety of job training in sewing, retail and food services; and community outreach.
“The great thing about our work with survivors is they are always welcome to come back and use whatever services they need,” Wilkie says. “When touring one of our survivors yesterday who was provided legal advocacy through our Family Justice Center, she shared that she may utilize our counseling center as well.”
Sarah is one such survivor who used Safelight’s services to escape an abusive situation in her home. She learned about Safelight from a coworker after sharing that she feared abuse from her husband at the time. “When I first contacted Safelight, it was to help me navigate out of that abusive relationship,” Sarah says. “I was assisted in how to do things such as take out a restraining order, supported when I needed to make phone calls to police, helped when I needed to go to court for assault charges and was offered a place to stay.”
She didn’t accept the offer of a place to stay until three years later, when she found herself in another abusive relationship. “By this time, Safelight’s counselor had helped me recognize the signs of abuse and I wasn’t about to wait for it to escalate,” Sarah says. “I now had an 18-month-old baby to consider. We stayed at Safelight and their transitional apartments for a total of about nine months until we were able to get housing assistance. During that time, we were assisted with various things we needed and supported with counseling sessions.”
The organization also helped Sarah find employment, which allowed her to achieve independence—a significant milestone in the journey to escaping abuse patterns. “Sometimes it is hard to see yourself ever being capable of moving out of an abusive relationship because they are financially supporting you,” she says. “But it doesn’t need to be that way and Safelight helped me with an internship in the thrift store they manage. My family is now in a safe position to thrive and recognize when we are safe or not, and I know that there is a whole team at Safelight that we can reach out to, day or night.”
Like so many nonprofits in the past few years, funding has been a significant challenge—especially because the organization is supported in part by Dandelion, a local Hendersonville eatery that employs survivors, and the Safelight Resale Store, both of which suffered losses during lockdown. Safelight has had to cancel its large annual fundraiser event this year and instead is hosting a number of mini fundraising events to ensure social distancing is possible. “Safety is a feeling some of us take for granted,” says Wilkie. “A feeling that, when lost, most don’t like to talk about. But it’s also a feeling that is necessary to thrive. At Safelight, survivors seek and find safety with us. But we are more than just safety. Safelight weaves hope and healing into the fabric of Henderson County. We go out looking for solutions, and we use every dollar to support survivors.”
To learn more about how you can support Safelight, visit SafelightFamily.org.