Given the rural nature of Fulton County, Jennifer Panczyszyn is not surprised it lacks a safe house for victims of domestic violence.
She wants to change that by the fall of 2017, when JJ SafeHouse is expected to open in Wauseon. As its founder, Panczyszyn has assembled a board of directors for the non-profit venture, which will offer what is believe to be the first-ever secure haven for domestic violence victims in the county.
JJ SafeHouse will be an alternative to the House of Ruth shelter operating in Defiance County, which also serves Fulton and Henry counties. Presently the nearest safe house for many local victims, the shelter is often at full capacity.
The Wauseon safe house will receive donated labor and will be partially funded by approximately $50,000 bequeathed for the project by a Maumee-area family. Through private donations and a corporate campaign to begin in January, Panczyszyn hopes to raise an additional $150,000.
Panczyszyn said the majority of her 10 board members are from Fulton County and have personally experienced domestic violence. They include an attorney, a child advocate, and a builder who will oversee renovation once a favorable existing house is located.
She said the board will try to avoid pursuing government grants because it would rather operate independently.
“They put boundaries on (operating),” she said. “We don’t want to have to turn someone away. With private money, we can work with a little more flexibility.”
The safe house will operate as a rehabilitation facility for three women and their children at one time. While not all protocols have been developed, the average stay is expected to be six months to a year. The house will partner with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, and while there women will be referred to resources through the Center for Child and Family Advocacy in Wauseon.
Unlike the policy of other domestic violence shelters, Panczyszyn said there will be no attempt to hide the location of JJ SafeHouse. “Given the amount of technology we have today, if someone wants to find you, they’re going to find you,” she said.
A security system provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s office, and partially funded by the safe house, will ensure that no unwelcome guests will enter the house, she said.
Once the house is established an executive director will be hired by the board, as well as people to oversee the operation 24 hours a day. The house will serve as a secure, safe haven for domestic violence victims as they attempt to reestablish their lives.
“We want to make sure when they leave they’re sustainable on their own,” Panczyszyn said.
She began the process of protecting the county’s domestic violence victims in November 2015, and since last May has placed five victims in area hotels, away from their abusers.
Her own mother withstood domestic violence for 15 years, and Panczyszyn, who grew up Lyons, shares painful memories from the experience.
According to records, 362 9-1-1 calls related to domestic violence were placed in Fulton County in 2015. This year, 29 women have requested information about area domestic violence shelters but only three were able to be placed, in sites in Defiance and Lucas counties.
“Domestic violence is a very difficult cycle to break,” Panczyszyn said. “(Child victims) believe it’s the norm, and it’s okay to hit someone. Until they can see a different way of life then the abuse cycle continues. My goal in all of this is, if I can help one child break that cycle, then we’ve done our job.”
Domestic violence is pervasive everywhere, but in conservative rural areas it usually isn’t as apparent, or as openly discussed, Panczyszyn said.
“When you get into the rural communities it’s just not as obvious as in crowded urban settings,” she said. “And because it’s rural, (women) usually don’t have as many options to escape. You look around in the smaller towns in the rural areas, and (shelters) just seem to not happen.”
JJ SafeHouse board member Jeanette Weinstein said the bottom line is local protection for those experiencing domestic abuse. “We just hope we can have a safe place for women and children to go,” she said.
Panczyszyn is confident JJ SafeHouse will reach capacity in its first month of operation. She also anticipates a waiting list.
For that reason, she would like to eventually open up multiple homes to domestic violence victims.
“Fulton County is so large. More than likely there will be more shelters to follow,” she said.
For more information or to donate, visit jjsafehouse.com.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.