Twenty-three years ago, Tri-County Protective Agency Executive Director Paula Foerstel manned a domestic abuse crisis line.
Part of her job was to temporarily house victims of domestic violence in area motel rooms, Foerstel recalled.
Then, two local families each donated a house for use as a permanent shelter, she said, and the 92nd Engineer Battalion at Fort Stewart donated their labor by connecting the two buildings.
“They constructed a middle wing, to provide a kitchen and dining room,” she explained.
“The Tri-County Protective Agency opened in February 1988, and I was the first worker here.”
After 22 years of continuously sheltering battered women and their children, the old shelter building became worn and in need of constant repair, said Cheryl Hughes, assistant director of Tri-County Protective Agency, which serves Liberty, Bryan, Long, Tatnall and Evans counties.
“We just couldn’t keep putting Band-aids on it,” Hughes said. “It did its job, and we’re grateful for the time we had it. But this place was a dream Paula had for years and years.”
The “dream come true” for Foerstel is the agency’s new $227,000, 4,000-square-foot shelter built by Riverside Construction in Glennville. The floor plan is based on a design Foerstel and Hughes drew up, and then submitted to builder David Futch and his architect.
Foerstel said most of the furniture was bought at wholesale prices from Quality Furniture in Hinesville.
“We broke ground last February and moved in before Thanksgiving,” Hughes said.
The bright, airy and open floor plan includes bedrooms, offices, a nursery, a TV lounge, a spacious living room, large kitchen, dining room, a washer and dryer and plenty of storage. Comfy sofas, breezy window treatments and soft-colored walls serve to soothe clients and provide a homey atmosphere, Hughes said.
There’s even a pre-school room fully stocked with toys, books and children’s furniture, courtesy of St. Anne's Catholic Church in Richmond Hill. Hughes said St. Anne’s members donated all the items needed for the pre-school room.
“They were wonderful,” she said.
Hughes said the shelter also received a $25,000 donation from an anonymous donor in Bryan County, in memory of James and Elizabeth Brogden.
“There were so many organizations in Liberty, Bryan, Long and Tattnall counties that helped with this project,” she said. “It was a tremendous undertaking.”
The agency’s board members gave hands-on support through the facility’s construction phase, Hughes said. One board member decorated the jungle-themed nursery herself. A rocking chair will soon join the crib and changing table in the room, she said.
“The moms can have quiet time with their babies in here, read to them or nurse them in the rocking chair,” Hughes said.
The shelter can house up to 12 clients and their children, Hughes said.
“If we get full, we contact other shelters in our circuit. We see if they have beds available until we can house them here,” she said. “They still get the same services as if they were here.”
Hughes and Foerstel said they enjoyed choosing wall paint and furnishings, creating a healing place, as well as a safe place, for victims of domestic violence to stay.