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Victims Assistance Center celebrates its new shelter

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The Victim’s Assistance Center of Jefferson County has come a long way since the late 1970s when its shelter was located on the third-floor of the Franklin building, according to cofounder Margaret B. “Peggy” Coe.

The then all-volunteer agency, known as the Women’s Center of Jefferson County, provided women a safe environment from their domestic violence situation. Now, the agency has grown to 29 employees and volunteers, and offers multiple support services, but the agency highlight — a brand new $1 million, one-level shelter in the city — was celebrated Tuesday during the agency’s annual luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal St.

“Back 35 years ago, we had trouble convincing people there was a problem in Jefferson County — domestic violence,” Mrs. Coe said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Paid staff operates the shelter, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Volunteers, who go through a mandated 40-hour training workshop, help bring people to the shelter.

It officially opened in August.

Executive Director Elaina F. Marra said the shelter truly embodies the agency’s mission of safety and security. The design, she said, is welcoming, “what a home should be like.”

Clients may stay at the 7,738-square-foot safe house, on Breen Avenue, for a couple days or up to a couple of months.

“Both our shelter staff and our advocacy staff work with our clients to help them work toward a violent-free life,” Ms. Marra said.

The Victim’s Assistance Center’s offices are located on Arcade Street.

All support services and the shelter are needed, Ms. Marra said, considering the agency sheltered about 300 adults and children in the past 18 months alone. In 2012, direct services were provided to 2,782 un-duplicated victims of various crimes.

“Sadly, that tells us domestic violence is occurring on a daily basis in Northern New York,” she said.

Ms. Marra said that is why it’s important for the agency to honor its volunteers, staff and partners for the work they do to help north country residents in situations where they have to visit the Victims Assistance Center. Because of that, the staff was presented various milestone awards for years of service with the agency. The following awards were also given during Tuesday’s luncheon:

■ Volunteer of the Year — to Rayella A. Mojica, Fort Drum, for having logged 327 hours so far this year

■ Community Spirit Award — given posthumously to Sister Nancy Smith, Elsa Grant and Winona Snyder for either a bequest they left to the agency, or through funds donated to the agency in their honor. Those funds were used toward the shelter. The Northern New York Community Foundation also received this award, as it contributed $10,000 toward the agency’s shelter.

■ Appreciation Award — to Brett Hebner and Brenda McAteer, both of the state Homeless Housing Assistance Corp., which awarded the Victims Assistance Center an $800,000 grant to help pay for the shelter. Edward Olley, GYMO principal and architect of the shelter, also received such an award for his involvement with the project.

Remarks were also offered by local dignitaries .

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