Story By: Paul Albani-Burgio
Cynthia Kornegey knows first-hand the many challenges faced by victims of domestic abuse.
“When you are pregnant and you are pushed down the stairs, you don’t know how to keep that secret in your home but also get help,” she said. “When your toddlers are being abused in your home, you are just afraid of that system that may come into your home. You don’t know that there are services there to assist you and protect you and empower you.”
Now, she’s among the many Jeffco leaders who are hopeful that the opening of Jeffco’s new Porchlight Family Justice Center will mean more woman and families than ever will be able to get the help they need as they attempt to escape abusive situations.
“This is where we come, this is where the services are, this is where the support is, this is our place of hope and healing and help,” said Kornegey, a former DA who is now part of a committee of abuse survivors who will offer input on Porchlight’s services.
The new center, which is located just north of Sixth Avenue at 11100 W. 8th Ave, will allow victims of domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking to access services provided by over 70 partner agencies under one roof with 19 of those agencies having a permanent staff presence inside the center. It is the largest facility of its kind in the Denver metro area and will serve both Jefferson and Gilpin counties.
Candace Cooledge, the executive director of Porchlight, said she became interested in bringing a family justice center to Jeffco after touring a similar facility in California. She said the concept struck a chord with her given her experiences as a longtime prosecutor in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Offices’ Special Victims Unit.
“I would want to help the victims in my cases and I would be sending a victim to all these different places and just hoping that they would able to connect with this or that particular agency but not really knowing,” Cooledge. “So having us all together to really be able to wrap the victim in services is huge.”
At Porchlight, victims will be able to access everything from therapists and victims advocates to assist finding someone to care for their pet while they are in the process of leaving an abusive situation. The Sherriff’s Office, Lakewood Police and other local law enforcement agencies will also have a permanent presence there, which they say will allow them to serve victims more effectively.
Among the many other offerings are a child care facility to care for children while their mother is getting help and a video court room where victims may seek a temporary restraining order against the abuser.
There is even a hair salon where victims can get their hair and makeup done before the hearing, which Cooledge said has been shown to make a major difference for victims as it allows them to feel more comfortable and confident when talking to the judge.
It’s estimated that the 16,543-square-foot facility could serve around 1,500 people a year to start — although multiple law enforcement officers who spoke at Porchlight’s grand opening on Feb. 24 indicated initial demand could be higher than usual as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lakewood Police Chief Daniel McCaskey said family justice centers nationwide are seeing over twice as many clients as they were before the pandemic.
“I don’t think that’s going to go away unfortunately,” he said. “Porchlight is needed now more than ever, our timing is perfect.”
Refferals to Porchlight can be made by both law enforcement and community agencies, but people in crisis can also seek out services from it themselves.
Cooledge said the facility has received funding from several sources, including the county and its municipalities as well as private donors and local foundations. However, it will also rely on donations and volunteers going forward.
But while there is work to be done to sustain the center into the future, the opening of the center itself is a significant triumph for Jeffco in its effort to better serve victims and survivors, said former DA Pete Weir, who greenlit its creation four years ago.
“This is on behalf of all the survivors and all of the great professionals who work on their behalf,” Weir said, before cutting the ribbon to officially open the center.