Q&A with Director of Circle of Hope

The Roar sat down with Suzanne Dow, the director of Circle of Hope, to discuss the types of resources that advocacy organizations provide for victims of domestic violence. She explained what services Circle of Hope offers and discussed the process of seeking help through counseling.

Q: What counties does Circle of Hope serve?

A: We serve Habersham, White and Stephens. There are 46 shelters like Circle of Hope across Georgia. We’re licensed by the state, so every county is covered by somebody, but down in rural Georgia. Some shelters have to cover 15 or 16 counties and really victims don’t go that far. But technically they can claim to serve those counties.

Q: What is the purpose of Circle of Hope in those communities?

A: Our mission is to support, empower and bring hope to those who are affected by domestic violence. We do that in a number of different ways. We have intervention services; most people know us for our shelter. We’ve been open since 1990, so when most people think of Circle of Hope, they think shelter for women and children. But over the years we’ve implemented so many other programs to address violence in the community.

Q: What other types of programs does your organization offer?

A: We have an outreach program that works with families who experience abuse but don’t need the shelter. Through that program we’re helping victims secure protective orders, support groups, we provide counseling, we provide financial assistance. These are all things that we do whether you’re in the shelter program or the outreach program. Then we have a 24-hour hotline and the shelter is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so when somebody calls the hotline they’re getting a trained advocate that can deal with their situation. We also have three different supportive housing programs for when they exit shelter. There’s not always openings but when we do have openings, they are all funded by different funders and they have different eligibility criteria. It’s basically something where people can be provided case management and counseling and assistance with all of their needs for longer than a shelter stay, like for a year or two. Another service we offer is the school prevention program where we go into the schools as young as Pre-K all the way to college age where we’re teaching youth about violence. Additionally, we have a bilingual program where we have a full time bilingual advocate to work with Spanish speaking victims. We have two thrift stores that provide resources for victims and hopefully making money to support our programs. We have a court advocacy program that is brand new. This is someone who is talking the victim through the court system and making sure her voice is heard or she’s not being pressured to dismiss something by the batterer out of fear. We just started in October, we’ll see if we can make some long term changes within the court system through this program.

Q: When someone comes to Circle of Hope looking for help, what is that process like?

A: Everybody gets a case manager and sets their own goals, whether it’s housing, employment, child care or mental health stuff. They meet with that manager routinely and we have a child advocate who works with the children and serves as the liaison between the mom and the school. We also have licensed therapists who come to the facility and work with victims.

Q: How important is therapy for these victims?

A: Therapy helps them get through the healing process. We want everyone we work with to participate in therapy. What we find is that most victims experienced some type of trauma in their childhood. A lot of these women were abused by someone as a child. Their vulnerability starts early and the abusers almost seek that out.

Q: How can you help prevent a survivor from returning to their abuser or a different abusive relationship?

A: We try to educate our victims to teach them the dynamics of abuse so that next time she will pick a healthy relationship. Those are hard patterns to break and especially when you have no job skills, they’re looking for the next man to take care of them. Then they go for people who repeat the cycle. The key to truly breaking the pattern is long term education.

For more information about Circle of Hope, visit their website at gacircleofhope.org.