State aid cuts have hit domestic violence group

By maura dowgin
Staff Writer

State aid cuts have hit
domestic violence group
By maura dowgin
Staff Writer

HAZLET — An organization in Monmouth County that works to help people who suffer from rape and domestic violence is suffering from budget cuts.

State funding has been cut from many of the operations of 180, Turning Lives Around (formerly the Women’s Center of Monmouth County).

The budget for the group’s toll-free rape and domestic violence hot lines has been cut by $60,000 in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.

"This represents about one-fourth of the budget for the hot lines," said Anna Diaz-White, 180 executive director.

People in need can call the hotline anytime, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

State aid funding for the organization’s Amanda’s Easel Art Therapy program has also been cut by $125,000.

"This represents about three-fourths of the Amanda’s Easel Art Therapy budget," Diaz-White said.

The Amanda’s Easel program was created by the group in an effort to encourage children exposed to domestic violence to express their feelings in a safe and nurturing environment through artwork.

The program serves 110 children annually and 70 of their non-offending parents. The program has won numerous awards, Diaz-White said, including the National American Art Therapy Innovation Award from the American Art Therapy Association, and the New Jersey Art Therapy Innovation Award from the New Jersey Art Therapy Association.

A therapist who works for Amanda’s Easel, Sarah McGee, won the Woman of Color Pioneer Award in the Art Therapy Field from the American Art Therapy Association, Diaz-White said.

The founder of Amanda’s Easel, Karen Wengert, won the National Victim of Crime Service Award from the U.S. Department of Criminal Justice for outstanding work on behalf of victims, said Diaz-White.

The group’s hotline and Amanda’s Easel program were financed by state appropriations. In the 2002-2003 fiscal year, all state funding was cut, Diaz-White said.

"No one was looking at the impact of these cuts," Diaz-White said.

These budget cuts will directly affect services that 180, Turning Lives Around can provide to women, Diaz-White said.

"We’re trying to chip away at this big issue," said Diaz-White. "We’re really relying on the Holiday Appeal."

The Holiday Appeal is the organization’s annual campaign. This year, each board member will call on people who have donated to the group in the past and ask them to match their previous donations, Diaz-White said.

"We’re hoping that the personal appeal to each individual will help them realize that we really need the money more than ever," Diaz-White said.

The first annual 180, Turning Lives Around Walk to End Domestic Violence, held in November at Thompson Park in Middletown, raised $20,000 for the organization, Diaz-White said.

The group is also trying to raise money through its new Puttin’ on the Ritz boutique in Keyport.

The store is doing better than the organization had expected, Diaz-White said, but is "just doing a little better than breaking even. To make a difference in our budget, it needs to double its revenues," she said.

The store also could use more volunteers. There are nine volunteers at the store, and ideally it needs double that number, she said.

"People can volunteer for just three hours," Diaz-White said. "It’s not an enormous commitment."

The organization is already looking to find areas where it can cut costs. However, most of its expenses, such as rent, utilities and phone, are fixed costs, she said.

"Our administrative overhead is less than 10 percent of our budget. We cannot simply have layoffs of administrative people and expect that to cover these cuts," she explained.

Last year, the organization had significantly smaller cuts in state aid, which led to some layoffs, she said.

The layoffs last year "resulted in cuts to part-time staff who were providing a direct service to victims," Diaz-White said.

The programs affected last year were the family court program, which provides counseling to victims of domestic violence who are seeking restraining orders in court; the Neptune/Asbury Park Outreach Office, which provides counseling to victims of domestic violence and is the only place in the Neptune area that provides this type of service; and the Rape Care Program, which provides the Rape Hotline, counseling, and escorts for victims of rape to hospitals, police offices and court.

The layoffs in the Rape Care Program almost meant the end of a program that provides an educator to go into area high schools and colleges to discuss reducing sexual assault risk. The counselor teaches students how to protect themselves and about sexual consent laws in New Jersey.

The program raises "awareness of date rape drugs and how they’re being used. Also, some of the symptoms of being drugged," Diaz-White said.

"Drugged consent is not consent," she said.

To donate money to 180, Turning Lives Around, contact Lori Sadwith at (732) 264-9114.

The group’s rape hotline is (888) 264-RAPE and its domestic violence hotline is (888) 843-9262.