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Commission hears about shelter

The St. Francois County Commissioners recently heard a presentation given by the local women’s shelter.

Stephanie Bennett, director of the Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council (SEMOFVC) provided an overview of their work with abused women and their sources of financing.

“[We are] known as your local domestic violence shelter,” she said. “We serve five counties, St. Francois, Iron, Madison, Washington and Ste. Genevieve. We have a building that has 32 beds in it for women and children. We also have court advocates, sexual assault advocates and outreach advocates.

“All of our services are available for men, with the exception of shelter. If you have a man that needs shelter, we put them up in a local hotel until we get him to St. Louis where there are actual shelters for men.”

She said what they are doing is helping people to learn to live again with a life free from violence. 

“We have parenting classes, anger management classes, life skills classes and domestic violence education classes,” she said. “It’s not something you can repair in 30 days. If you have a mother with three or four children who doesn’t have a high school diploma, who maybe has a conviction on her background — these are things that are going to take a lot of time to get them back to where they need to be.”

Bennett explained how the shelter’s funding is obtained through various sources and agencies.

“Part of the shelter funding is from the Network for Emergency Shelter Services (NESS) board, along with our state and federal funding,” she said. “There is also some fundraising we do throughout the year. The federal and state grants mostly cover the salaries of those working there. They do not cover our $800 electric bill, or $400 water bill.

“So we do rely on fundraising, as far as a couple of trivia nights throughout the year. We’ve started a new thing called purple pledge where you can opt to have maybe $10 a month directly debited from your account — that’s a fundraiser that we’re doing.”

Bennett introduced Alice Stringham, secretary-treasurer of the NESS board, who explained their role in funding and support for the shelter.

“We get monies from the court, which are fees that [the county] collects on marriage licenses and applications for divorces,” she said. “We have a board of three to four people from Washington, St. Francois and Ste. Genevieve counties. We fund the shelter twice a year with monies the county sends. We inspect the shelters periodically.”

Bennett interjected, saying, “The NESS funds that we get, a little bit of monies that we get from the United Way, we are always seeking out different avenues of funding to keep it going. Plus we get we call it a ‘guilt tax’ so when you pay a ticket there’s a percentage in each of these towns. It may be only $4 from St. Mary, but Desloge may be $90. Those add up too, coming in monthly.”

County Clerk Kevin Engler asked, “You do fund raise in other ways, correct? You also need furniture on occasion for your people? How crowded are you normally?”

Bennett said, “We have 14 women right now and two children. We had 40 at Christmas with 32 beds, so there were a lot of babies with their mothers. We have a storage shed located next to My Sister’s Place.”

Engler asked, “Do you get any benefit from My Sister’s Place?”

Bennett said, “We do. Mr. Vessell gives a little money once a year. He also lets us do our fundraisers at his buildings at no charge.”

Engler said, “And tax credits are available. State tax credits are available. Fifty percent of your donation back, plus you can take it off your federal and state taxes. So for most people they can get 70 to 85 percent of the money they donate back.”

Bennett added, “Anything over $100 qualifies you for a domestic violence tax credit.”

A visitor in the gallery asked how old a boy would have to be before not being allowed to stay with his mother at the shelter.

Bennett said, “If they’re 18 and they’re still in high school. Once they’re out of high school, that’s the cutoff.”

She went on to explain the change in public profile that the shelter has undergone over the last few years.

“We’re not a secret anymore,” she said. “It used to be hush-hush — you don’t know where it’s at. Now we have a big sign. We want people to be proud they’ve taken that step.”

Engler asked, “You do have security?”

Bennett said, “We have very good alarms and cameras “

Auditor Louie Seiberlich asked, “Stephanie, you’ll also take food supplies and health supplies?”

Bennett said, “Yes, it’s good to remember that if you use it every day, we do also — times 30. Shampoo, bed pillows, bath towels and mattresses.”

Bennett noted that the shelter has a Facebook page, Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council, where all of its activities are listed. In addition, it also has a website —”

Sheriff Dan Bullock said, “The shelter has become a very good asset for the police departments. I remember a time when victims of domestic violence would have to stay at the jail or we would have to go out and beg for accommodations for those families at local motels and churches. Now we have a place to put them.”

Someone in the gallery asked Bennett if the women’s shelter would allow domestic abuse victims to bring pets with them.

Bennett said, “Recently, we have just started taking their pets as long as their pet is up to date on shots. The pet has to remain on a leash when they are in the living area. They have to have a kennel in their room if they are going to run errands and the pet needs to stay.”

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher asked if Bennett brought a recommendation for a board member with her.

Engler interjected, “Vicki Weible was nominated to be on your board. Do you still want that name to be submitted, because [the commission] needs to take official action?”

After Bennett assented, the commission voted to accept Vicki Weible for the open position on the board of directors.

Treasurer Kerry Glore asked, “If someone wants to be on one of your boards, what’s the process?”

Bennett said, “We have an application to fill out, and then you’re interviewed by the executive committee. You have to be from one of the counties that we serve.”

Stephanie Bennett, director of the Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council, addresses the county commission while Alice Stringham, NESS secretary/treasurer looks on.

Stephanie Bennett, director of the Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council, addresses the county commission while Alice Stringham, NESS secretary/treasurer looks on.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at

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