Susie C. Spear, News & Record Greensboro
WENTWORTH — Several humble little clusters of wild daisies dot the 3-acre field here where on Monday work crews will turn earth to begin construction of a justice center and safe haven for victims of abuse.
On Friday morning, staff and board members for Help, Incorporated celebrated the groundbreaking for SquareOne Family Justice Center, a 10,000-square-foot facility that will house multiple agencies beneath one roof to serve victims of domestic abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking and partner abuse.
More than a dozen women and children who have survived various types of abuse and had the aid of Help, Incorporated and its associated agencies, gathered to shovel the first scoops of red clay soil at the building site at 317 Cherokee Camp Road. The ceremony drew more than 100 people, including judges, law enforcement from across Rockingham County, county commissioners, social services staff and the district attorney.
The planned $2.8 million facility, with $2.1 million of that through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development, will bolster the county of 91,000 in its ability to serve clients with efficiency as they are introduced to the justice system, board members and staff said.
“The land in front of you will soon … house the heart and hope of Rockingham County’s most passionate agencies, working together to provide the essential services which keep our community safe as the victims of violence get the help and resources that they deserve,’’ said Mary Jane Webb, chairperson of Help, Incorporated’s board of directors.
Webb said she and other board members hope the facility, planned since 2016, will stand as “a beacon to survivors that there is still hope and that they are valued and supported by all.’’
Kelley Woodley, area director for USDA Rural Development, said his agency takes pride in building a safe space for families to seek justice and respite.
“USDA is proud to invest $2.1 million in the construction of the SquareOne Justice Center,’’ he said. “This gives us an opportunity to assist rural Americans to have a place where they know it is safe. Safety is a basic right,’’ Woodley said, adding that the federal agency wants to help “provide a place of haven for women and children.’’
Among the building’s planned amenities: offices, therapeutic rooms, family sleeping quarters, conference areas, common rooms and more, all designed by Michael Moore of Moore-Hocutt Architects in Greensboro.
“It’s badly needed for the women who are battered and have to leave their situation … this is so important for them and for their children,’’ said Kathy Cox of Eden, the mother of two daughters who work for Help, Incorporated.
She said the work her daughter Joanna Cox has done for the nonprofit’s resale shop in Eden has brought great reward. She often helps in choosing new wardrobes for women who have left violent homes with only the clothes they were wearing when they fled.
“I spend a lot of time with the children,’’ Webster said, explaining that when victims of abuse reach out for help, bureaucracy can often feel daunting. SquareOne Center will make the experience, “more inviting’’ and “more open’’ to victims, offering them ease in navigating everything from mental health resources to filing criminal complaints, she said.
Felissa Ferrell, director of the Rockingham County Department of Health and Human Services, told those at the ceremony that her agency has seen staggering numbers of abuse cases this past year.
Ferrell reported that the county received 195 adult protective services reports and confirmed abuse, neglect or exploitation in 103 of those cases.
“With a substantiation rate of 34%, we are well above the state rate of 24%’’ in such cases, Ferrell said.
The county’s DHHS child welfare division also received 985 regular intake calls and 572 emergency after-hours calls last year.
“This has resulted in our agency serving over 2,100 children,’’ she said, explaining officials had substantiated around 22% of the reports of child abuse and neglect.
Add to that, during 2019-2020, Help, Incorporated received over 500 crisis calls and served more than 1,600 clients, Ferrell said.
“Currently we have 151 children in foster care and 78 disabled adults in guardianship,’’ Ferrell said. “These are children and adults who are supported not only by health and human services staff but by the incredible services of Help, Incorporated and our community partners.’’