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The Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre held their annual crime victims ceremony this past week in observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

This year’s guests were able to learn about what two area resources do to help others in need of assistance.

SEMO Family Violence Council Executive Director Stephanie Bennett explained they are an organization that is locally known as the "women’s shelter".

“The agency was actually established in 1994 as just a hotline, but the need was so large in the community that we were able to open our first shelter in 1995,” said Bennett. “Then we were able to build our current facility on Berry Road in 1999.”

Bennett said she has been there since 2004 and started off as the court advocate assisting victims with court processes, orders of protection, divorce and custody. She stressed she was not an attorney, but was there for moral support and to guide them through the process.

“I moved from there to the shelter coordinator position, so I (am) manning the actual shelter,” said Bennett. “Then in June 2015 the position for the director came open and at first I didn’t want it, but took it, so here I am.”

Bennett said they have five service counties ... Iron, Washington, Ste. Genevieve, St. Francois and Madison.

“We get victims from all over the state, from other states and have had a few immigrants,” said Bennett. “When you are dealing with victims from St. Louis, there are only two or three shelters up there and a lot of times they are coming down here to our area to receive help.”

Bennett said they are serving victims of domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and teen dating violence. She said they try to get into the high schools to talk about healthy relationships and they do domestic violence education classes with people who want it.

“Sometimes it’s court ordered for some of our DFS clients ... you will have a victim continually say why does she stay, why is this happening,” explained Bennett. “In return you want to say ‘why does he do this’, it always goes back on her, blaming her for not leaving the situation.”

Bennett said when a victim does come to them they are helping her with a goal set and educating her on the red flags of relationship ... basically helping her to start living her life over again, a violent free life.

“In working with the Restorative Justice Project I think it is a good way for the offenders to be able to see how they are giving back,” said Bennett.

Kids Smart Director of Operations Shannon Richards said they are based in St. Louis and are thrilled with their partnership with the Missouri Department of Corrections.

“Kids Smart just turned 16 and we have had a very exciting journey in that time,” said Richards. “We have been able to distribute more than $54 million in free school supplies to the St. Louis area. So we operate an educational supply store that teachers come shop at for 100 percent free (items).”

Richards said the average teacher is taking up more than $800 every month just to bring supplies back to the classroom. In just St. Louis there are 90,000 students who need the services of Kids Smart.

“Our partnership with the Missouri Department of Corrections is 15 years old and (they) are one of the best partners that we have had from the beginning,” said Richards. “The educational materials the Restorative Justice Program is able to supply is fantastic. These are the enriching materials these students don’t have access to - crayons, markers, pencils, paper, glue ... all the essential supplies.”

“Really with these students, the excitement just to have their own school supplies is fantastic,” said Richards. “It’s a way they can experience a bigger education, a bigger piece of that.”

Richards said the need is bigger than just St. Louis.

“We directly push into 918 classrooms just with our mobile unit and we serve 161 schools directly with our free store,” said Richards. “We also have about 24 school districts that we serve. There is excitement in our store and it’s stocked like a regular store.”

Richards said they are very excited for the next 15 years of growth and couldn’t me more thankful for the partnership that they have with the Department of Corrections. She said every year it’s about $550,000 in merchandise that goes directly back into the schools.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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