A Boost for the Abbie

By Beacon Staff

Since 1976, the Violence Free Crisis Line has been here to help the valley. Now it needs the valley’s help. And with 100 businesses signed up for booths at the upcoming Women’s Expo, a fundraiser for the crisis line and its affiliated Abbie Shelter, it appears an initial wave of help is on its way.

The Violence Free Crisis Line, which provides services for women and children experiencing violence, has run into many of the same problems facing other nonprofits in today’s hazy economic climate. Private donations are scarce, grants have been cut and answers are hard to come by.

Janet Cahill, the organization’s director for 22 years, said one major grant was cut by 18 percent, while United Way scaled back funding by about 20 percent. Private contributions have been halved. Office hours have shrunk and staff was reduced from nine employees to six, part-time and full-time.

“We have a serious financial problem,” Cahill said.

At the Women’s Expo at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Nov. 7, businesses that are predominantly geared toward females will set up booths to show off their goods and services. Jamie Lynn, co-owner of Alternate Root and an event organizer, said the Flathead frequently holds expos such as gun shows, though nothing specifically for women. All proceeds – booth entry fees and $5 admission fees – will go to the Violence Free Crisis Line and Abbie Shelter.

“It’s something to do while their husbands are hunting,” Lynn said. “It’s never been done in the valley, as far as a women-centered expo.”

A networking group called Biz to Biz Network is the chief organizer of the expo. Tracy Branham, who founded the company in Minnesota and started chapters in Montana a year ago, said the focus of Biz to Biz is promoting small business owners and professionals. With the expo, she is able to bring together a diverse ensemble of local businesses to encourage networking while helping a nonprofit in need.

The Violence Free Crisis Line and Abbie Shelter are the focus of the event’s fundraising aspirations, but Branham said several of her group’s local members sponsored booths for other nonprofits such as the Nurturing Center. She plans to hold the expo every year and highlight a different nonprofit each time.

On Nov. 7, there will be five speakers from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., topped off by a fashion show at 1 p.m. Cahill is one of the speakers. There will also be interactive opportunities, including makeup demonstrations, chair massages, a silent auction and cookware demonstrations. Branham is expecting about 3,500 people to attend. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cahill’s organization deals with a variety of violence victims who call the 24-hour crisis line. This includes victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, child abuse, incest, assault, elder abuse and stalking. The crisis line helps its callers cope with their situations and find safe places to stay. It also focuses on prevention education.

Up until 1994, the Violence Free Crisis Line used private homes and motels to shelter victims, providing stipends to the homeowner and paying for food. But in December of 1994, the Abigail Frederick Memorial Shelter – or the “Abbie” – was established to give the organization a stable location to house victims. The shelter was named in tribute to Abigail “Abbie” Frederick, the first paid advocate of the crisis line, Cahill said.

At the shelter, staff members work with the victims, providing one-on-one assistance and peer counseling. Support groups are formed and nurtured, and workers help victims with paperwork. Residents generally stay for a few weeks and as long as a few months, until they get back on their feet. Last year, the shelter served 86 women and 68 children, Cahill said.

Lynn said she hopes the fundraiser can provide a much-needed boost for the Violence Free Crisis Line.

“It would be a shame to see that organization go away,” Lynn said.

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