To Katy Keller, development director at St. Martha’s Hall, the most important element is helping keep women and children safe from violent partners. The mission of the emergency shelter, opened in 1983, is to help them break the cycle of violence in their lives.
The organization’s response is immediate, confidential and safe: shelter and a supportive environment with advocacy and follow-up. A self-help philosophy enhances self-esteem and decision-making skills. It also provides accurate information and referrals to battered women and their children. A crisis line is staffed 24 hours a day.
St. Martha’s Hall began due to overwhelming requests from battered women for emergency shelter through Dial-Help of Catholic Charities.
In its 35 years, more than 6,825 women and their 8,845 children have been sheltered. Ever constant in its mission to do everything possible to end violence against women, Keller noted, the same person has been executive director the entire time and average tenure of full-time staff is almost 13 years.
The children’s program of St. Martha’s Hall has its own objectives. A major component is to help reverse misconceptions that a child might have, including a belief that he or she is cause of the violence or should have changed the situation. Self-esteem and self-awareness must be fostered and an atmosphere of violence rejected as normal or acceptable.
Age-appropriate, twice-weekly support groups are available for children and all adult residents also are encouraged to attend weekly in-house parenting classes. St. Martha’s Hall programs have been the subject of formal research and nationally published articles.
Old Newsboys contributed grant money last year to help the children’s program with medications, baby supplies, books and night equipment.
Keller has no single memory that stands out more than another.
“Every day is memorable when we work with women who are so courageous in leaving their violent partners,” she said.
Interview material contributed by Sydney Gibson, senior, Francis Howell High School.