The Shelter Home of Caldwell County first opened its doors on April the 22nd, 1978. Countless women, children, and even men have received help from it since.
The need for a shelter for battered women was originally established by the Caldwell Council on the Status of Women. The organization conducted a survey and found that 1 in 10 women who responded stated that they had been victims of domestic violence.
With a grant of $8000, a lot of faith, and even more innocence, a drive was launched. An initial staff of four and a small group of volunteers visited civic clubs, churches, medical meetings, and local government councils in order to raise awareness of the problem. The Shelter was quickly established in a building in downtown Lenoir which had been the office of Dr. Caroline McNairy. The building’s owner, Dr. Verne Blackwelder, allowed the Shelter to use it rent-free. It was the first shelter in North Carolina for victims of Domestic Violence, Rape & Sexual Assault and the victims’ children, and was the only shelter on the East Coast between Baltimore and Atlanta for some time.
Men, women and children helped scrub, paint, and clean up the house and yard of the first Shelter Home. Furniture, appliances and linens were donated to get the house ready for occupancy. 10 days after the opening, the first client, a college professor’s wife from out of town, moved into the house. The word started to spread, and the Shelter Home has been busy ever since.
The Shelter Home quickly established its credibility with local law enforcement agencies, and has maintained an excellent working relationship with them for over 30 years. The fact that the original shelter was 50 feet from the backdoor of the Lenoir Police Department certainly helped, especially one night when an irate husband cut the phone and power lines to the Shelter Home and tried to break in.
It soon became evident that the community had other needs, and again the Shelter Home responded. Counseling for both clients and their children, counseling for child witnesses to domestic violence, help getting jobs, court advocacy, legal referrals, financial help, childcare, connections to other community services, and often just a shoulder to cry on. The Shelter Home also began reaching out to the community with programs at elementary, middle, and high schools in Caldwell County to educate students about behavior that frequently leads to violence or sexual abuse.
In 1988 money was raised for a new building which was christened the Jane Carswell House, and none too soon as the old building suffered a serious fire shortly before the new facility opened. The Service League raised a large portion of the $240,000 that was needed, with Reverend Parker Williamson heading up the successful fundraising drive.
A new need was met in 1997 when a building of transitional apartments, named the Leona B. Carpenter Transitional House was added to the Shelter Home. Many women facing independence for the first time in their lives were unable to afford local housing, and felt unsafe out on their own alone. In the transitional apartments, women and children starting a new life have an affordable option, and are still able to benefit from the services and security of the Shelter Home.
The greatest challenge faced by the Shelter Home today is the struggle to maintain services to the community in the face of dwindling budgets, and shrinking contributions from government agencies and charitable organizations that have supported it. Today more than ever, the Shelter Home depends on the generosity of the community it has served for so long, but we face those challenges knowing that as long as there are victims who need us so badly, we’ll be there to help.