WINCHESTER — The Laurel Center has reached out to Rep. Jennifer Wexton for help in addressing its funding needs.
The 10th District Democrat spent 90 minutes Thursday morning touring the center at 402 N. Cameron St., which provides shelter and support services for physically and sexually abused women, children and men in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
"It's an amazing resource," Wexton said.
The Laurel Center, formerly The Shelter for Abused Women, was founded 36 years ago. The nonprofit moved last year from a small house that routinely squeezed in up to 14 people to its new Cameron Street headquarters, which is big enough to shelter 32 women and children on a short-term basis and has an additional transitional housing unit for longer-term stays for up to eight people. Men who need shelter services are housed elsewhere in undisclosed locations.
While the new 20,000-square-foot facility was sorely needed, its construction created the need for more staff, supplies and funding.
"People see the building is completed and think we're fine," Executive Director Faith Power said. "We can serve up to 32 women and children, but we're capping it at 15 because we don't have enough resources."
That's where Wexton comes in.
Power invited the representative to the center so she could explain the nonprofit's mission and challenges. Afterward, she asked Wexton for any assistance she could provide in finding federal grants that would allow The Laurel Center to reach full capacity.
"We really do need some help," Power said, noting that existing state and federal grants only cover about 70% of the center's annual $2.2 million operating budget, and there isn't enough staff available to track down and apply for additional grants. "For FY 2020, we have close to half a million dollars in unfunded expenses."
Although The Laurel Center provides the only emergency shelter for domestic assault victims in Winchester and Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties, financial support from local governments is low or nonexistent. Power said Frederick County donates $6,000 per year and Clarke County contributes $3,000, but Winchester and Warren County provide no funding.
"There isn't a day that goes by that we're not turning someone away because we don't have the resources to accommodate them," Power said. "It's very difficult when someone is battered or stalked and frightened and we can't offer them support."
Additionally, the center hasn't been able to open the transitional housing unit on its third floor, even though it is fully furnished and ready for residents. The nonprofit also purchased the former CSX train station next door to its headquarters with the goal of opening a workforce training center for shelter clients, but has not had enough money to proceed with the project.
"Maybe there's some funding available that we're just not aware of," Power said.
Wexton, a former assistant commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted domestic violence cases in Loudoun County, said she was impressed by The Laurel Center and pledged to have her staff investigate additional grant possibilities.
"Absolutely, we'll see what might be available to help fund this venture," Wexton said. "We need to make sure they have the resources to serve this vulnerable population."
For more information about The Laurel Center, visit thelaurelcenter.org.