SafeCenter sees surge in need, asks for donations in telethon fundraiser

SafeCenter Executive Director Hannah Gottschalk (left) and Project Director/Clinical Supervisor Stephanie Molnar are among the staff at the center for domestic and sexual violence services, with locations in St. Johns and Owosso, who are putting on a fundraiser telethon Oct. 27-29.

OWOSSO — SafeCenter normally hosts its annual dinner — the domestic and sexual violence center’s biggest fundraiser of the year — in April, but COVID-19 prevented the event from taking place this year.

SafeCenter officials hoped to reschedule the event for this month, but rising COVID infections stood in the way. Instead, the center pivoted in a new direction: a telethon, set for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 27-29. Supporters can donate by phone, online or in person.

“We had to get very creative this year,” SafeCenter Executive Director Hannah Gottschalk said. “These are hard times, and we have to think outside the box. So we decided to put on our first-ever telethon and give that a shot. We need community support now more than ever.”

Throughout the statewide shutdown, the center has stayed open and its staff has stayed busy. The number of people in need of the center’s help has increased dramatically, the result of people being isolated at home with their abusers, she said.

The center’s shelter in Owosso, which houses 20 people, has been operating at 50 percent capacity, pursuant to Centers For Disease Control guidelines. The shelter — the only facility of its type in the area — has been full since March, she said.

Keeping their commitment to maintain the same level of services despite the pandemic, center officials have been housing clients in local motels — an extra expense for the nonprofit organization.

“We’ve been very busy,” Gottschalk said. “The work has not stopped, but our team is dedicated and passionate and shows up every day with a can-do attitude. From the board to the staff to the interns, everyone works really hard to make a difference.”

SafeCenter, with offices in St. Johns and Owosso, offers numerous services to people dealing with domestic or sexual abuse: an emergency shelter, a 24/7 crisis hotline, 24/7 on-call responses to police or medical emergencies, transitional housing across Shiawassee and Clinton counties, legal advocacy, individual and group counseling, and community education programs.

The center helps many of children, who stay in the shelter and participate in transitional housing programs, she said. Center officials also educate children about awareness and prevention in local schools.

“Every person knows somebody who is affected, whether you know it or not,” said SafeCenter Project Director/Clinical Supervisor Stephanie Molnar. “Support us if you love the people in your life, because we’re serving those people.”

Gottschalk said: “We’ve been around for 40 years, and we want to be around for another 40. Domestic and sexual violence are not going away. We help with healing and with prevention in the future.”

SafeCenter relies primarily on grants to fund its operation, but that financing source can be unreliable and change from year to year, Gottschalk said.

“Support from our community is absolutely essential in order to provide our services to the community,” she said. “And we’d like to decrease our reliance on grants, which can be unreliable.”

During the three-day telethon, staff will answer phone calls, go live on Facebook to announce updates and post a final donation total on Facebook at the event’s close. Contributors can make pledges or actual donations during the event.

SafeCenter’s annual fundraising goal is $60,000; officials have set a goal of $15,000 for the telethon.

“That would be amazing,” Gottschalk said. “Every dollar makes a difference. Fifty dollars provides a service; $100 provides a different service. All the money goes right back to the community, to the people who need help the most.”

Donations can be made on the SafeCenter Facebook page, at the Owosso facility, 1300 N. Hickory St., or by phone, (989) 723-9716.

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