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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Justice center deserves to survive
By ERNEST HOOPER
Published January 30, 2008
Her abusive husband sweet-talked her into dropping her request for a restraining order.
He insisted he would change, that things would be better. The soothing words reminded her of the early days of the marriage, before the mental and physical assaults became commonplace.
She knew she had made a mistake before she left the courthouse. Just outside the courtroom, his threatening gesture hollowed out all the promises.
She drove away with tears in her eyes, and went to the one place that had been a beacon through the entire ordeal.
The Family Justice Center.
"They were very comforting," said the victim, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy. "They consoled me. I didn't think there was a way out until I met them."
Sadly, the route she used may be closing, even though one of every three women in the United States is a victim of some form of domestic violence.
Since opening in October 2006, the Family Justice Center has used a unique "one-stop" approach to help more than 2,300 families escape the torment of an abusive home.
More than 20 agencies have onsite offices at the center in the old Floriland Mall at 9309 N Florida Ave. Another 20-plus are offsite partners.
Victims arrive to find helping hands in a warm environment. The waiting room looks more like a living room, and includes a kitchen and adjacent play area for weary children who already have seen too much.
Counselors help victims navigate the services. Instead of having to make multiple trips, they can return at a specific time to meet with various officials, including representatives from the Spring domestic shelter, Bay Area Legal Services, the Child Abuse Council, the clerk of the court and the state attorney.
They can even make arrangements to get a physical through the county Health Department.
In this time when nonprofit support continues to wane because of economic uncertainty, the collaborative approach makes good sense. Not only do the agencies save by being under one roof, they share ideas and best practices.
"Some of these agencies didn't even know about each other," said Nikki Daniels, the center's executive director.
President Bush became so enamored with the approach when he visited the nation's first Family Justice Center in San Diego he created a $20-million initiative to set up centers in 15 cities. The Tampa center received $1.1-million, but the funding has run out.
The center worked to obtain more federal funding, but the appropriation got slashed. Another grant application came up short, and the center declined to stage fundraisers because it didn't want to cannibalize its partners.
Now, without an angel stepping forward with a $350,000 donation - which would allow the center to get to its two-year anniversary and qualify for more grants - the center will have to close its doors Feb. 8.
Without it, the path to peace of mind for domestic violence victims may return to being a maze.
Without it, the need for law enforcement officials to spend more time playing Dr. Phil and less time on patrol will undoubtedly rise.
Without it, the chance of domestic violence becoming domestic homicide becomes too prevalent for a community that's supposed to care.