A discussion of the availability of choices for domestic violence victims was initiated by a community task force studying women’s needs in Columbus; by a number of people working in the human services field; and by a support group for single mothers whose members were attempting to shelter women in their homes.
CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, Inc., formerly Phoenix House, began service to the central Ohio community in October 1977.
CHOICES became one of the first programs in the state to address the needs of battered women and their children.
Over the years, CHOICES has developed from a shelter facility into a multi-site, full service agency.
The first year CHOICES survived almost entirely through volunteers and donations. Volunteers staffed the shelter, monitored the crisis lines, and spoke to various community groups about domestic violence. Contributions from the community supplied the shelter with food, clothes, linens and personal care items.
Staffing the shelter is a critical issue, since the shelter operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 1978 the amount of an original CETA contract was increased, easing some staffing uncertainties.
By the end of year two, CHOICES began to develop its resources. CHOICES became a contract agency of the Franklin County Mental Health Board (now ADAMH), obtaining Title XX funds. In 1980, CHOICES became a member of the United Way of Franklin County. During the same year, the agency received a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health to purchase and renovate a new facility. This facility would house administration, shelter services, and family services as well as provide shelter for 34 women and children.
When CHOICES first opened, the objective was to shelter women from violent situations. At the time, there were no models for domestic violence programs. The structure, programming, and policies were developed from the basic shelter facility. The programs evolved out of necessity to counsel the women; to work with the children; to deal with substance abuse; and to educate the public.
CHOICES’ basic program has historically functioned out of the shelter facility. However, other programs and sites continue to be added. Currently, CHOICES consists of the shelter, an administrative building, three outpatient counseling sites known as Something Other than Shelter (S.O.S.), a legal advocacy program and four outreach locations. The separate administrative location was designed to more effectively conduct business and to serve as an additional counseling site.
The legal advocacy program assists clients at the Columbus City Prosecutor and Franklin County Prosecutor offices. More programs are constantly being examined for the future.
Recognizing the need to reach women in prison, many of whom have suffered from domestic violence prior to their incarceration, the agency piloted an education program at the Franklin PreRelease Center in 1990. The success of the program and positive response of the participants were instrumental in the expansion of the service on a fulltime basis to inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. The program was adapted in 2006 for use with adolescent females adjudicated to the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
In January 2005 CHOICES placed two community advocates within The Center for Child and Family Advocacy, one of the first programs nationwide to partner child abuse services with domestic abuse services. From 2006 through 2008, CHOICES partnered with Volunteers of America, placing an advocate on site to work closely with families in their transitional housing program who had experienced domestic violence.
In addition to service for victims and survivors, CHOICES offers outreach, information and education to the central Ohio public. This service takes the form of consultations, speeches, seminars, and recorded and printed material. CHOICES believes that education is the first step to prevention of family violence. Support groups for targeted populations are conducted weekly or bi-weekly and new support groups are in the development stage for implementation during the next year. A comprehensive Domestic Violence in the Workplace program has been developed and is used by local businesses and corporations.
One of the benefits of establishing a new service organization is to be a pioneer. CHOICES is the researcher, creator, and developer of the local systems to help victims of domestic violence and their children.
With each anniversary celebration, CHOICES relies on creativity and commitment to foster growth and change. CHOICES has been a leader in Ohio and throughout the country. As previously stated, there were no models for domestic violence programs when CHOICES was created. CHOICES now serves as a model. Of the 72 domestic violence agencies that now exist in Ohio, most have looked to CHOICES’ foundation and experience.
In 2008, CHOICES received re-accreditation from CARF, an international accrediting body, for three years ending in 2011. All of the agency’s programs and services were evaluated by a team of independent surveyors to determine compliance with CARF standards. CHOICES’ Outreach Program, which includes community and legal advocacy and community education programming, received an exemplary rating.
CHOICES is committed to excellence in serving domestic violence victims and survivors. CHOICES was one of the first shelters to receive United Way funding. CHOICES has influenced public policy by assisting in the development of legislation, such as the Ohio Domestic Violence Law and public funding mechanisms for domestic violence services. The shelter serves nearly 500 people each year and offers counseling services to hundreds more. The crisis line is handling almost 2,500 calls each year. CHOICES continues to provide a link to key systems encountered by victims of domestic violence and their children.