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SAFE seeks help with teens

AHOSKIE – Lorraine Lassiter admits she’s older than a teenager but she also confesses she still loves to open gifts at Christmas.

That’s why her wish this holiday is for presents for three teenaged girls currently housed in a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

As Executive Director of Roanoke-Chowan Services for Abused Families with Emergencies (SAFE), Lassiter said she hopes people will open their hearts to provide Christmas gifts for the girls.

&uot;People always give for the small children, but sometimes the older children are left out,&uot; said Lassiter. &uot;People may think they are too old for Santa, but no one is ever too old to receive a gift at Christmas. Teens want packages and presents to unwrap too.&uot;

SAFE is a non-profit organization serving battered and abused women and their children. Lassiter said the group is made up of volunteers who not only serve to assist victimized women, but they also act as advocates if the women must appear in court.

The advocates also work with victims of sexual assaults. Before grant funds ran out, Lassiter would contract with attorneys to provide reduced-rate legal services for SAFE clients.

Lassiter said SAFE was initiated in the early 1980’s by a group of women who recognized a need to help victims of abuse. The organization serves battered and abused women and victims of sexual assault in Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Northampton counties.

&uot;So many women were being incarcerated because they would try to defend themselves and their children against their abuser,&uot; said Lassiter. &uot;The safe house was opened to give these women an alternative way in which to respond to their abuser. We began to write grants for assistance to the program and it grew. I began as a volunteer along with others and it worked into full-time for me. Last year alone, we served about 1,600 women and children.&uot;

Lassiter added not all those who received services were housed at the safe house. Some simply needed advice and some just wanted someone to listen.

&uot;We also provide court advocacy for our clients,&uot; she said. &uot;Trained advocates work with the District Attorney in each county we serve and they familiarize clients with courtroom procedures and what will take place in a hearing. It is the job of the advocate to make our clients feel comfortable should they have to appear in a courtroom setting.&uot;

While the volunteers of SAFE offer a broad shoulder to lean on, Lassiter said the agency needs someone to listen to their plea for help this Christmas. She has asked for donations of funds or gift items for the teen girls and other children. SAFE has the sizes, ages and needs of each child at the safe house and they will give a donor that information so that age and size appropriate items can be purchased.

Once the items are purchased, they should be taken to the SAFE office at 123 Loftin Road, behind the Social Security office in Ahoskie.

Those who would like to make monetary donations to SAFE should call the office at 252-332-1933 to make arrangements.

With contributed funds, the advocates of SAFE make the purchases according to the list of needs of the children. To preserve the anonymity of the families served, the gifts are packaged by number and no names are ever given out.

&uot;I really count on the advocates and they do a wonderful job for SAFE and its clients,&uot; said Lassiter. &uot;Our advocates are all volunteers and we always need volunteers that could come into the office a couple hours a day.&uot;

Lassiter said volunteers for the Crisis Hotline are also needed. Training is provided for volunteers, teaching them not only how to be good listeners, but also how to respond when a crisis call is received.

For more information, or to make a donation or become a volunteer, call Lassiter at 332-1933. The mailing address is Roanoke-Chowan SAFE, P.O. Box 98, Ahoskie, NC 27910. The 24-hour, seven-days a week, Crisis Hotline is 252-332-1933.