Local Organization Provides Peace, Comfort & Hope to Those Affected by Domestic Abuse
Photographer / Amy Payne
The groundwork for the nonprofit Sheltering Wings started with dedicated volunteers who operated the food pantry at Cornerstone Christian Church in Brownsburg. During their interactions, volunteers found that several of their clients were dealing with abusive situations in their homes. Compelled to do something about it, in 1999 they gathered up a guiding coalition, raised funds, and, in 2002, Sheltering Wings opened its doors.
“That was our real genesis — Cornerstone Christian Church,” says Kevin Carr, Development and Communications Officer for Sheltering Wings. The organization started as an extension of the church as an independent nonprofit and has garnered a huge amount of support from the entire community, including various agencies, individuals and other churches.
Though they have stayed true to their core principles and guiding values, over time, the organization and its mission has continued to expand and grow. For instance, in February, Sheltering Wings opened a 12-person unit for men who are victims of domestic abuse.
“Early on, we were only aware that it was a problem that affected women, but as we have served more men, we recognized that we need to have on-site housing for men in emergency situations as well,” Carr says.
According to Cassie Mecklenburg, Executive Director of Sheltering Wings, the nonprofit helps roughly 250 women, men and children annually in its residential services. In addition, they provide prevention and education all across the county in churches, schools and workplaces so they touch a lot of people in various ways.
Plus, they have a helpline that operates 24/7, fielding thousands of calls each year that serve a whole spectrum of needs. Sheltering Wings aids, in numerous ways, those who suffer domestic abuse to get back on their feet.
“We know it’s not enough to just help a person get out of an abusive relationship,” Mecklenburg says. “We want to help them build safety, stability and independence so that they can move forward. Therefore, we work with them to develop all of the economic and emotional resources they need to do that.”
This includes things such as offering budgeting, parenting and computer classes as well as support groups. All of these things contribute to assisting survivors in completing their education and finding jobs.
“Our case managers and advocates work with each individual to assess both the practical and emotional resources they need,” Mecklenburg adds. “We want to help them overcome the hurt and betrayal they have experienced.”
The assessment looks at 16 life domains—things like income, jobs, education, health and nutrition, and family support systems. The score helps pinpoint the areas where additional resources are needed.
“Research shows as they essentially fill their tool belts with knowledge, understanding and resources, they have a greater likelihood of living successfully and self-sufficiently,” says Mecklenburg, who maintains that a person has a tendency to go back into an abusive relationship seven times before they finally leave. “When you think about that statistic, it makes our support services and safe housing all the more important.”
Carr points out that oftentimes when those who are abused chose to return to these unhealthy relationships, their reasoning appears sound in their minds. For instance, they may genuinely love the person. Or they may be financially dependent on them or may have children with them and long to keep the family unit together.
“That’s a normal train of thought, but it’s not a healthy train of thought,” Carr says.
The bottom line is that a person can only choose to change for themselves.
“We do everything we can to help them understand their value, purpose and worth,” Mecklenburg says. “They are worthy of trust, honor and respect. These are all characteristics and attributes they should get in a relationship.”
Carr points out that if domestic abuse was only physical, rules might be more cut and dried, but there is also emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, spiritual and digital [electronic] abuse.
“You can begin to see how a survivor who finally seeks help and has the courage to break out of that cycle comes with a hugely damaged sense of self and a warped sense of what love is,” says Carr, noting that the person likely has some legitimate fears about what will happen to their kids, their reputation or themselves if their abuser tracks them down.
“There are so many things survivors deal with which, if you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, it’s hard to understand,” Carr says. “It’s all about the abuser maintaining power and control, and they do that largely by tearing down their victim.”
This is precisely why learning life skills is so critical as that’s what will keep them independent and avoid entering into unsafe relationships.
Back in 2017, Sheltering Wings knew they wanted to address issues in affordable housing and build a community resource center. Though it was a wish on the horizon, they had no clue how it was going to transpire. In June 2020, in partnership with RealAmerica [the developer] and Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Sheltering Wings will break ground on an affordable supportive housing apartment complex located across the street from Perry Crossing Mall. Sheltering Wings will have access to 13 of the 52 units for residents who move out of the shelter but who cannot yet afford rent.
Mecklenburg describes the apartment community’s clubhouse as being much more than the average apartment community clubhouse. In addition to all the normal amenities, Sheltering Wings will staff the clubhouse and the building is designed with the ability to host life skills classes and programs onsite. It will be a vital extension to all that happens at the facility in Danville.
Families face four primary needs when exiting the shelter: affordable housing, reliable transportation, affordable childcare and access to mental health services. This apartment community helps address affordable housing and access to mental health services.
“When we can provide those two components, that’s a game-changer for them,” Carr says. “They are able to leave our shelter more self-sufficiently and yet they don’t feel like the safety net of support is fully stripped away as they still have access to support services.”
“We help people get out into the community and on their feet independently, yet still have the support of case managers and supportive programs when they need them,” Mecklenburg adds.
The community resource center will also provide easy access for individuals who don’t need safe housing but still would benefit from having access to support services. The community resource center will remove a barrier for those who might not otherwise seek assistance because they feel the stigma associated with going to a shelter for help.
“We don’t want our former residents to forever live with the label of ‘victim’ or ‘survivor,’” Carr says. “We want them to be a regular part of the community.”
Temporarily living at Sheltering Wings provides a sense of security and peace that people desperately need at the time, but living in a shelter develops a sense of transiency because residents know it’s not their final destination. When they transition into permanent housing, however, they feel a sense of pride, relief and success.
“There’s a freedom and tremendous sense of accomplishment when someone has a home they can call their own,” says Mecklenburg, who shares the story of a former resident, a single mother who was at Sheltering Wings for nearly two years as she completed her education and was working to save up a nest egg in order to move out.
“She was chomping at the bit to be independent and get out on her own and when she finally did, she thrived,” Mecklenburg says. “She’s doing fantastic and is finishing up school.”
“It has been exciting to partner with RealAmerica and Cummins Behavioral Health in planning this community, and, it’s humbling to have the support of the Town of Plainfield,” adds Carr, noting that the Town Council voted to approve plans for the community late last year.
In 2020, planning has progressed full-speed. After a tentative late-Spring groundbreaking, construction is scheduled to be complete and leasing to begin in November 2021.
“As an organization, we will certainly have a lot to be grateful for next Thanksgiving,” Mecklenburg says. “But I’m most excited to see our residents and their children moving into their brand-new apartments. They’ll each be taking one more giant step toward shedding the stigma of being domestic violence ‘victims’ or ‘survivors.’ Instead, they’ll be safe, secure, independent and productive citizens. That’s a picture of our mission and our hope for all individuals and families in our community.”
Sheltering Wings, P.O. Box 92, Danville, Ind., 46122. To call the 24-hour Helpline: (317) 745-1496. For more information, call (317) 718-5460 or visit shelteringwings.org