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PERMANENT PLACE: The Greene County Family Justice Center occupies the former Tefft school building after a June move.
SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson
PERMANENT PLACE: The Greene County Family Justice Center occupies the former Tefft school building after a June move.

Victim service providers expand as needs grow

Greene County Family Justice Center relocates, while The Victim Center plans 2021 move

Posted online

As one local victim service organization relocated this summer to a much larger space, another is set to do the same next spring.

The Greene County Family Justice Center and The Victim Center Inc. are both experiencing growing pains brought on by the community’s increased needs. Clients at The Victim Center are coming in record numbers in recent years, with the nonprofit exceeding over 4,000 served last year, officials say.

The county justice center, opened in October 2018, is in its second location in under two years. The organization, which serves survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, moved June 8 to the former Tefft school building at 1418 E. Pythian St.

In 2019, the justice center served 1,318 adults and 224 children, incorporating a total of 1,870 visits, Project Coordinator Jamie Willis said. In less than two years of operation, 2,158 adults and 377 children have received free and confidential help, including legal and counseling services.

The move was necessary because the center’s original home in the Greene County Judicial Courts Building at 1010 Boonville Ave. was a short-term arrangement, said Willis. The office was designated by the Greene County Commission as eventual courtroom space, but was temporarily lent to the center at no cost.

“The search was ongoing literally from the day we opened,” Willis said of finding a permanent home for the center. “Part of our agreement with the county is we said we would find additional space for little to no cost to the county.”

In July 2019, Springfield Public Schools sold the nearly 21,000-square-foot, three-story building as surplus property to Greene County for $10.

“They were spending money on maintenance and utilities and were only using it for storage,” Willis said of the school district. “It really was the perfect fit.”

The justice center isn’t the only victim-focused provider in expansion mode. The Victim Center Inc., which serves adult and child survivors of violent or sexual crimes, plans to move in spring 2021 to 815 W. Tampa St. after it purchased a current Volt Credit Union branch. Executive Director Brandi Bartel said the nonprofit bought the property this summer for its appraised price of $675,000. Volt announced its plans to move the branch to 2440 N. Kansas Expressway in November, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

“First and foremost, it gives us about 50% more square footage,” Bartel said of the roughly 9,000-square-foot building. “That is significant because we’re just at a point now where I can’t take advantage of new opportunities to expand programs or keep up with the increasing need for our services we provide without adding more staff.”

Officials from both organizations say they are experiencing high client volumes, with Bartel noting the increased need in recent years at The Victim Center is consistently breaking records.

Get growing
Willis said 33 staff members from nine partner agencies work in the justice center’s new facility. Harmony House, Legal Services of Southern Missouri and Burrell Behavioral Health are among on-site organizations providing free services, such as crisis counseling, emergency shelter access and filing orders of protection. The center’s original 3,000-square-foot space quickly filled up and limited the number of clients that could be served, she said.

There’s room to spread out now. The first floor is for intake and reception, with the second floor for services. Offices fill former classrooms on the third floor.

“We’re wanting to foster collaboration by having everyone work in the same space so that everyone isn’t in their own independent office,” Willis said of the top floor’s open concept. “Each of the on-site agencies that we have were able to expand.”

The justice center is funded by $500,000 in the county budget generated from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in November 2017. However, Willis said the organization has spent well under its annual budget level for the first two years of operation, with the intent of using the savings toward a future building. The Tefft building renovations cost $715,000, she said. Most of the costs were related to work to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, adding security equipment and updating some HVAC systems.

The Victim Center, which also is a justice center partner agency, is closing in on its roughly $1.3 million fundraising goal for its new future headquarters. Nearly $1.2 million is raised, with donors including O’Reilly Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: ORLY) and the O’Reilly family, for which the new building will be named. The Victim Center’s current 819 Boonville Ave. facility also bears the family’s name, dubbed the O’Reilly Family Building of Hope.

Additionally, Kurt and Sherry Hellweg of the Darr Family Foundation will match up to $250,000 in donations, with another $35,000 to come from the Mabee Foundation. Bartel estimates around $300,000 in renovation costs, with work set to begin in January 2021.

Its annual budget is nearly $1.2 million, with 24 employees and 100 volunteers.

“We’re out of space at Boonville,” she said. “Even if a donor hypothetically gave me the funds to add two more staff positions, I wouldn’t have a desk to put them at.”

Meeting a need
An increasing number of clients are accessing The Victim Center’s counseling and advocacy services, including a 24-hour crisis and intervention hotline. It reported a record-high of 4,657 individuals served in 2019 – up nearly 20% from the record of 3,934 served in 2018. When the nonprofit purchased its building on Boonville in 2004, it assisted 1,546 victims. The increase in 2019 is nearly 200% over that 15-year span, Bartel said.

“It’s multilayered and multifaceted. There’s isn’t one driving force,” she said. “Child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence are generational types of crimes.”

The increased service need at The Victim Center is in step with a jump in violent crimes reported nationally. According to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey in 2018, the most recent year available, the number of violent crime victims, ages 12 and older, rose to 3.3 million in 2018 from 2.7 million in 2015.

The roughly 22% increase was attributed to cases of rape or sexual assault, aggravated assault and assault without a weapon.

Bartel said she doesn’t expect this year’s number of victims served to exceed 2019’s total, but the coronavirus pandemic’s future impact on domestic and child abuse numbers is yet to be fully understood.

“I just get really nervous about the long-term health impact that COVID-19 will have on individuals as it relates to abuse and neglect,” she said.

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