A Shelter from the Storm

Story by Lauren Jones

Jannie Condley is a woman with a mission.

Since September 2006, not a day has gone by that Jannie has not lent a hand to a woman or child in need. She puts her heart and soul into this mission, and she says she could “never see (herself) doing anything else.”

Her mission? Jannie is Executive Director of the River Valley Shelter for Battered Women and Children in Russellville, a place for women and their children to turn to in a time of need.

The Shelter takes in women who are victims of domestic abuse. Statistics show that one in three women will be a victim of domestic abuse at some point in her lifetime. The Shelter is a place for these women to go.

Women are able to contact the shelter (whose physical address is never publicized) by self-referral, referral from the police or from the hospital. Once they arrive, Jannie says, “we (the shelter) offer them safety – a safe place to live.”

But safety is not the only thing each woman will receive just by knocking on the door.

“We use our resources, such as counseling, outside agencies, and community help agencies, to help facilitate getting them (the women) back on their feet,” Jannie says.

While living at the shelter, the women go through mandatory counseling, which is also open to the public.

“These sessions are open to any domestic violence victims, free of charge,” says Jannie.

When a woman arrives at the shelter, the staff sits down with her to discuss what goals she would like to meet, whether it is getting a job, buying a car or getting childcare.

“We always want the women to be actively working on their goals,” Jannie says.

Along with three staff members, Jannie runs a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week facility. The shelter hotline is always open, even if the victim calling just needs information. Last year, the Shelter had around 200 women and children to come through their doors.

“We don’t turn people away just because we’re full,” says Jannie. “We try to make other arrangements, like getting them into another shelter.”

A major revenue source for the shelter is the River Valley Shelter Thrift Store, presently located at 121 East Parkway. (The store was recently located in Downtown Russellville until it outgrew that location.)

The store is open to the public and accepts donations. In fact, Jannie asks that all donations be dropped at the store. Whatever is needed at the shelter will be used.

“Anything that the ladies need, they go to the thrift store and get,” says Jannie. “There is no charge to them for that.”

Another way the River Valley Battered Women’s Shelter receives money is through their jewelry program. Broken china and beads are used to make necklaces, bookmarks and key chains. The beautiful, individually-designed pieces are sold to generate revenue for the shelter programs.

“Just like the china,” says Jannie, “we want to show the women who think they are broken that they are really something amazing and beautiful.”

Although the economy is down, Jannie says the communities of Pope County have been wonderful in their giving. This past Christmas, the community donated more toys and food than the shelter had ever imagined would be possible.

“We had an abundance of toys so we were able to put toys back. Now, when a child comes in, we can give them a toy so they can have something of their own,” says Jannie.

Although there was plenty of food at Christmas, food is something that is always needed for the shelter. Also, volunteers are a necessity to keep the shelter running.

“The shelter must have volunteers in order for us to receive federal funding,” says Jannie. “They are always welcome here at the shelter or at the thrift store.”

At the end of the day, there is a simple goal for Jannie and the rest of the staff at the River Valley Shelter.

“We want to get (the women) to lead independent lives, free of abuse. That’s the key right there – to live free of abuse.”

“I think we have accomplished a lot,” believes Jannie.

“Of course, I don’t want to diminish anything that was done prior to me. Everything has worked since we opened our doors in 1984, but I guess I’d just like to think that every year we do something better and better.”

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