ARCHBOLD — For women in Fulton County who have suffered from domestic violence, help is here.
In 2015, according to numbers from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, there were 362 domestic violence calls to the county's 911 call center. And with no safe houses located within the county, that left victims facing relocating their families to other counties for help or doing nothing at all.
For that reason, the JJ Safe House project was started in 2015.
JJ Safe House is a privately-funded organization run by an 11-member board of Fulton County residents who are looking to: "provide long-term domestic violence shelter in Fulton County" and do so by "giving back to the Fulton County community by providing a safe house for women and children experiencing the traumatic effects of domestic violence."
On Monday, during a public meeting in Archbold's village council chambers, village officials gave overwhelming support with a unanimous vote of approval to the project opening its doors within the village.
"I've done some research into this," explained Councilman Ed Leininger. "The board has some very talented people and the passion is there. I have a lot of respect for the board."
And according to project president Jennifer Panczyszyn, it's a program that is starting to take hold within the county.
"We started it, JJ, in 2015 specifically for Fulton County," explained Panczyszyn, herself a victim of domestic violence as a child. "It's very true and dear to my heart. We started this then with the sheriff's department and last year we helped six cases. Now, we've done six (cases) just in the last three weeks and I think part of it (the increase in cases) is just the fact that word is getting out."
Currently, JJ Safe House contracts with facilities around the county to house its victims and their families. Shelter and food is provided for the families in the short term to help separate them from abusive situations.
Now, JJ Safe House officials are thinking long term. Panczyszyn and her fellow board members are hoping that a new Archbold facility will give victims not only shelter, but much more.
"The (house) here in Archbold will be operated as a rehabilitation center," explained Panczyszyn, who hopes to have the home open by fall. "The residents we would house here would go through an interview process with a mental health counselor. And we want a commitment that they're going to stay there for nine to 12 months.
"It's a rehabilitation shelter," continued Panczyszyn. "We want to acclimate them back into the community, we want to teach them financial skills, we want to teach them parenting, we want to help them get a job, we want to work with the schools to get the children the help they need. When they're out of the rehab shelter we want them to be able to stand on their own two feet, raise their kids and have the skills needed."
And while the location of the rehabilitation shelter has been disclosed as 404 Union St., board members of JJ Safe House know that security is still the utmost of importance to future residents.
"Essentially what we're going to do to the home is provide handicap accessibility and a security system," explained JJ Safe House board member Con Keefer, a construction manager in charge of bringing the home up to code. "This home will not be hidden away. Any abusers will be able to find this home, so we're going to have a secure, security system involved. We'll be installing a privacy fence and upgrading the first- and second-floor kitchens so it can provide services for up to three families."
According to Keefer, the house will also have up to six bedrooms with community kitchens and living rooms along with upgraded landscaping and electrical and mechanical systems.
"We're going to keep this in first-class condition," added Keefer. "We'll be doing weekly mowing and trimming of the lawn. Regular trash removal, snow and ice removal in the winter, regular maintenance on all the systems and powerwashing of the outside of the unit.
"We want to be a very good neighbor," continued Keefer. "We want to maintain the property with a low profile, work with the police department and in the end, turn these families around to break the cycle of abuse."
JJ Safe House officials also noted, to add to the security of the property, that no males visitors will be allowed on the property, while 24-hour monitoring and supervision also will be in place.
To date, Panczyszyn noted that the organization is completely funded privately, and but may begin to ask for additional funding from local companies.
"Our goal is to save the kids," ended Panczyszyn. "I know, in my heart of hearts it can happen. It happened to me, I broke the cycle and my kids have never seen that (domestic violence). I was able to break the cycle because of the people that I was surrounded with, I know we can do this."