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Neighborly lifeline for domestic violence victims could fray at the edges unless Jackson steps up

Nearly a year has passed since a domestic violence support agency in Jackson County abruptly shut down under financial duress, and so far there’s no sign on the horizon of a new nonprofit to fill the void.

In the meantime, however, the domestic violence agency in Macon County stepped in and picked up the torch on an emergency — and presumably interim — basis.


“You really bailed us out,” Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten told Ann VanHarlingen, the director of REACH of Macon County, last week.

But it’s a role Macon REACH would eventually like to hand off.

“We would like to see a standalone agency for domestic violence and sexual assault in Jackson County,” VanHarlingen said in response to Wooten’s praise. “We’d like to see that move back into the control of Jackson County.”

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That doesn’t seem likely any time soon, however.

“For whatever reason, no one has really stepped forward to form an entity in Jackson County,” Wooten said.

So REACH of Macon County appears stuck for now working across county lines to make sure victims in Jackson County have someone to turn to for help.

Two women in Jackson County have been killed in the past five years at the hands of abusive ex-partners. Eight in Jackson, Macon, Haywood and Swain counties combined. 

SEE ALSO: No good deed goes unpunished in state’s domestic violence funding formula

“Services to victims are critical. They are living in highly dangerous situations,” said Christine Faulkner, program manager at the Domestic and Sexual Assault Alliance for the seven western counties.

But it hasn’t been easy for Macon REACH. For starters, staff is stretched thin.

The nonprofit added four positions after taking on Jackson as a charity case, but the other dozen employees at the agency are frequently called on to pinch hit — from fielding crisis hotline calls from Jackson to applying for grants on Jackson’s behalf.

Sometimes, a staffer has to drop everything in Macon and drive over to Jackson to meet with an assault victim in the hospital or walk them through the process of swearing out a warrant against their abuser. Macon REACH also opened its emergency shelter to women from Jackson since Jackson no longer has one of its own.

But the biggest missing piece for Macon REACH as it attempts to plug the hole in Jackson County is community support.

“Nonprofits depend on a local core of community activists, volunteers, business, churches and individuals who have a passion for their particular cause. Because we are new in Jackson County, we don’t have that core,” VanHarlingen said.

What they need most is donations and fundraising. And the Jackson community simply hasn’t stepped up to support Macon REACH despite the nonprofit being the sole lifeline for domestic violence victims in the county.

A nonprofit’s board of directors typically leads the fundraising charge. But the board for Macon REACH is obviously focused on fundraising for its own county. Funds raised for Macon County services are earmarked as such — and not shipped over to support Jackson, explained Andrea Anderson, services director for Macon REACH.

One solution to build that local support sphere that is currently missing is to create a Jackson County advisory board or committee to liaison with Macon REACH staff, Anderson said.

While Macon REACH survives primarily on state funding, cuts are in store for next year (see related article).

When REACH of Jackson County suddenly shut its doors last February, it had been on the verge of financial insolvency for nearly two years and finally reached the breaking point. By the end, it was stitching together a budget from week to week. Jackson REACH was behind on state and federal payroll taxes, its mortgage and had even used money earmarked for employees’ 401K accounts to stay afloat and pay bills.

The root of financial ills for Jackson REACH stemmed from a housing complex for domestic violence victims trying to start a new life, but the mortgage burden overextended the agency.

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