Member Program Spotlight: Heartly House in Frederick, MD

Aug 21st, 1970

Starting with this Fall 2012 issue, Frontline will feature a different rape crisis and recovery center in Maryland each quarter. We will ask them five questions in honor of the 1 in 5 women who are survivors of rape in their lifetime. The following questions were answered by the staff of Heartly House:
  • Roberta Geidner, CEO (9 months with Heartly House)
  • Tammy Keener, Community Education and Outreach Coordinator (7 years)
  • Laurie McNeil, Interim Clinical Director (10 years)
  • Michelle Pentony, Hotline Manager (12 years)
  • Robin Rose, Development Director (1.5 yrs)
  • Blaine A. Hoffmann, Esq., Legal Director/Staff Attorney (5.5 years)
Tell us about Heartly House and the issues it tackles.   The Frederick County Task Force on Battered Spouses was founded in 1978 to address the issues of domestic violence, spousal abuse, rape and sexual assault since there were no other agencies dealing with these issues in Frederick County.  The organization became Heartly House in 1985. For over 34 years, Heartly House continues to tackle these issues by providing the community with resources, services, and support.   Since that time, a 24/7 hotline has been created and averages over 1000 calls per month.  Both crisis and on-going counseling is offered to deal with the trauma of violence for women, men, children and families.  A new addition to services in 2012 will be a dedicated Children’s Program Center that will add play therapy as a modality of treatment for children.  Housing is provided directly by Heartly House through a 29-bed, 7-bedroom emergency shelter, and seven private apartments for transitional housing as well as numerous community partnerships for housing alternatives. Heartly House has a strong partnership with law enforcement and the hospitals, and is cited as one of the best implementers of Lethality Assessments and immediate offering of shelter for those assessing at very high risk.  Another innovation this year is to add danger assessments as well to our tool kit in better serving clients to avoid serious injury and homicide.  Heartly House’s Legal Services team of attorneys and victim advocates assist in obtaining orders of protection, and providing representation for divorce and custody to high risk victims.  HH’s Community Education and Outreach program has an active partnership with local schools and CASS workers to provide programming on healthy relationships, bullying, dating violence, and other means to prevent forms of relationship violence among children and young adults, and to deal with the impact of domestic violence for children who have no other outlet.  Heartly House is also a first responder to sexual assault cases at the local hospital and with law enforcement, and our SAFE Advocates program is highly respected in helping victims of sexual assault. Why are you a member of MCASA? Membership in MCASA means Heartly House receives many benefits.  Because of the state-wide lobbying efforts by MCASA, they are able to represent and promote legislation that directly benefits our agency and clients alike.  Additionally, the trainings provided by MCASA through their expertise on the topic of sexual assault provide in-depth education to our staff so that we can better serve our clients. Lastly, MCASA provides our clients with additional legal services Heartly House is not able to provide.  Heartly House is limited to representing clients for Protective Order and/or family law cases (divorce and custody), victims of Rape and Sexual Assault can access legal assistance and/or representation for other legal issues such as employment or housing disputes to name a few.  Their Sexual Assault Legal Institute also offers victims of sexual assault with legal representation in criminal cases in order to ensure that their rights are represented in the prosecution of their offender.  The Heartly House attorney is barred by his grants from criminal representation. What sexual assault prevention work does Heartly House do? The Heartly House Community Education and Outreach Coordinator works to provide violence prevention information on varying levels.  During the school year the coordinator/educator works within the schools to provide healthy relationship and healthy emotion groups in the elementary and middle schools in Frederick County.  The Coordinator brings a prevention message to every presentation she does by encouraging all of the members of our community to be active in ending domestic and sexual violence.  During sexual assault awareness month Heartly House airs commercials on both the radio and television that includes a sexual assault prevention method. Tell us about the Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event that you put on this month. This was the third year we have hosted Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®.  The event has grown each year and has become one of the most popular charity events in Frederick. The event raised nearly $40,000 this year.  We always hold the walk in October as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Men are encouraged to take a stand against domestic violence by walking one mile through downtown Frederick wearing women’s high heel shoes.  Women and children are welcome to walk as well, although they are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes!  Walkers pay a registration fee and solicit donations for their participation in the walk and local businesses support the event through sponsorship opportunities. We conclude the walk with an awards celebration and party. This year the post walk party was held at The Delaplaine Center for Arts. The event provides an environment and atmosphere that enables people to talk openly about something that is not fun to talk about.  Not only is Walk a Mile an important fundraiser for Heartly House, it is also an impactful educational and awareness event, calling attention to the issue of domestic violence and the services that are provided by Heartly House to Frederick County residents who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.  We would love to have many MCASA friends join us at next year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes! Editor’s note: Check out more photos of this event at http://on.fb.me/XftuZf. If Heartly House received $100,000 in new funds today, what would you do with it? Twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year, victims (infants to elderly) pass through the doors of our local hospital after being sexually assaulted. For these victims, a Heartly House advocate is the first responder; the person that stands beside them and helps them begin processing the trauma they've experienced while providing support and advocacy through the entire Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) process.  That process includes a comprehensive medical forensic exam and an investigative interview with law enforcement. During this time, the victim tells her/his story numerous times and undergoes an exam in which evidence is physically collected from her/his body. All of this happens just hours or days after the traumatic event occurred. As you can imagine, having an advocate there to provide support, crisis counseling and advocacy is crucial to the victim's healing process and wellbeing. The SAFE stipend allows advocates to receive compensation during times in which they are on-call.  Whether having dinner with their families, watching a movie at the cinema or spending time checking things off their to-do lists, they drop everything when the phone rings and immediately report to the hospital, where they will work with the victim for, on average, around four hours. Recently, we lost our funding to provide this important stipend and as a result, our SAFE advocacy response service is suffering.  Advocates are no longer receiving compensation for being on-call, so fewer shifts are being taken and in turn, we are facing cases in which we don't have an advocate to respond to this very important service.  Meanwhile, the SAFE accompaniment requests are on the rise and the need is greater than it has ever been.  If Heartly House received $100,000 in new funds today, we would be able to reinstate this important stipend for another 4.5 years. Heartly House is currently staffed with only one attorney.  If Heartly House received a $100,000 in additional funds today part of that funding could be used to hire a second full-time attorney.  Unfortunately, the majority of victims only receive representation for Orders of Protection.  A second staff attorney would allow Heartly House to expand the number of divorce and custody cases handled in-house. This article is a part of the Fall 2012 issue of Frontline.

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