Story by: Lurah Spell

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Branch House Family Center recently gained six new partners to help victims of child abuse, elder abuse, sexual assault and exploitation.

Tennessee Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, SMILE Foster Care Closet, City of Bluff City, Healing Hands Health Center, and Allstate Foundation Purple Purse have committed to help provide services to victims through the Blountville nonprofit organization. The center’s purpose is to serve as one location where victims can go for counseling, legal services, orders of protection and more.

SMILE (Simple Methods In Loving Everyone) Foster Care Closet provides clothing and other essentials children need before foster parents recieve state assistance to buy necessities.

“Their [Branch House] work in our community aligns with our mission to provide dignity and impactful kindness to families that are in crisis,” said SMILE co-director Rachel Lawson.

Dawn West, a local Allstate agent who decided to partner with Branch House through the company’s foundation Purple Purse, said when she found out about the services offered through the center she knew it would be a perfect local partner for Purple Purse, which provides victims with information on how to prepare to get out of abusive relationships.

Four other agencies and organizations — CEASE Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Inc., Isaiah 117 House, LifeBridge, and Covenant Counseling Center — also recently said they plan to begin partnering with Branch House in the near future.

In 2017 in Sullivan County, there were 1,817 domestic violence crimes and 268 sex crimes reported to law enforcement, which equates to more than five domestic violence reports every day and more than five sex crimes reported every week.

Branch House opened in May 2018 and is one of several family justice centers in Tennessee. It was the first to open as a nonprofit. So far, 278 clients have been served there, and more than 2,000 calls have been received at the center from people needing assistance or from agencies with referrals to the center.

Director Karen Turnage Boyd told the Bristol Herald Courier she initially anticipated serving 15-20 clients during the center’s first year.

“The goal of the family justice center model is to make services easy to access,” she said.

“Being part of bringing existing agencies together and working with them to identify and eliminate service barriers has been an honor. Our community is a kinder, less intimidating place for survivors of abuse because of the way all of these agencies work together.”

Boyd read a letter from one of those clients, who wanted to remain anonymous, to a group of community partners that gathered at an event at Branch House last week.

“When I first came in contact with the Branch House Family Center it was one of the most scary and traumatic times in the lives of my children and myself,” she wrote. “No one knew of the years of manipulation, fear, and abuse we had endured from a man who looked like the perfect father, husband and papa outside the walls of our house, but who was not at all what he appeared to be. … I was afraid that if I exposed the truth I would be seen as crazy and that no one would believe me. But what had become more frightening to me was the fact that I feared for our lives.”

That’s when she said she called Branch House and explained her situation through “fearful tears.” The staff worked diligently to coordinate a time for her and her children to come to Branch House and meet with the agencies and organizations that could help them. Over the past year since she made that call, she said she and her children have been helped by the center and its partners with legal matters, court dates, and have received counseling.

“My family and I are still on the path to healing, but without the Branch House we wouldn’t be on the path at all,” she wrote.

She ended the letter by thanking the agencies and organizations that are partners of Branch House for saving the lives of victims in the region.

Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy, whose department is a Branch House partner, told the Herald Courier he knows services offered are making a difference in victims’ lives.

“Everything they do for victims is extremely important to us,” he said. “They offer a lot of assistance. … It’s collaboration to try to make a safer community.”

Read the original story here.