Editor's Note: This is the next in a series of articles about the member agencies of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
PARKERSBURG - The Family Crisis Intervention Center is more than a roof over one's head in a time of need, it is the chance for the victims of domestic violence to find a new start, said one woman who had to take shelter there.
The Family Crisis Intervention Center of Region V in Parkersburg, which receives $15,000 from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, is a non-profit organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Emily Larkins, left, executive director for the Family Crisis Intervention Center, and Board of Directors member Celena Roby are shown at the center’s emergency shelter in Parkersburg.
Celena Roby was a victim of domestic violence for 10 years when she decided to get away from it and came to the shelter five years ago for help. Since that time, she has been able to learn needed life skills to be able to get out on her own and thrive. She has helped shape state law in regards to domestic violence and now serves on the center's Board of Directors.
"I think what the shelter meant to me was more than the obvious of having somewhere I could get food and have a roof over my head," she said. "Everyone knows the shelter is that.
"What really helped me was the emotional healing."
The center serves Wood, Wirt, Tyler, Roane, Ritchie, Pleasants. Jackson and Calhoun counties, said Executive Director Emily Larkins. It offers services for people experiencing domestic and sexual violence, including shelter, a 24-hour hotline, counseling, legal advocacy, parenting education, information and referral to appropriate community resources, a family visitation center, transitional housing and county outreach programs.
"We do a little bit of everything," Larkins said.
The services provided by the shelter are free. The center receives federal, state and other funding from donations.
"That is what makes the shelter work and allows us to provide the services we provide," Larkins said. "Volunteers help fill in the gaps.
"We are here 365 days a year, 24 hours a day with people staffed at the facility."
The United Way is an important contributor in that there are not a lot of restrictions about how their money is spent which can go directly to helping clients, Larkins said.
Roby described first coming to the shelter five years ago with her two sons and how their whole world had been turned upsidedown.
"I had $12 in my pocket," she said. "With my two boys, one day they had a mom, a dad and a house. The next day that was all gone."
The shelter provided counseling, helped her get clothes so she could go on job interviews in order to go to work, taught her life skills and more.
"One of the most beneficial things they had here was group counseling where I got to sit and talk with other victims of domestic violence," Roby said. "That really helped show me that I could be independent and that I could have my freedom.
"It wasn't so much the hand out, but the hand up."
Roby said she went from her parents' home to her married home and did not have much experience to learn some of the life skills many people take for granted. She found every aspect of her life being completely controlled by another.
The center was there as she began traveling the criminal justice system and had an advocate with her when she filed for a protection order.
"I was sitting there seriously thinking about running out the door," Roby said. "I did not want to go through it.
"However, an advocate was there to help. If it was not for that, I don't think I would have gotten that protective order."
The center also encouraged Roby to speak about and share her experiences with others. That ultimately led to her going to the state capitol in Charleston with her ideas to try to change the laws in regards to domestic violence.
"At the time, I thought these were just crazy ideas," she said. "I was writing down some of these ideas on post-it notes.
"All of that led to the passage of Celena's Law in 2011."
The law criminalizes unlawful restraint in West Virginia. Prior its passage, the state had no law stating that someone could not confine or detain someone against their will.
"It was in the legislative definition of domestic violence, but it did not have a criminal offense unless there was a ransom or something was involved which could result in a kidnapping charge which is hard to get in domestic violence situations," Roby said. "I helped create the misdemeanor offense to cover that area of confinement and containment for victims."
She credits the help she received at the center with giving her the ability to do that.
"They still encourage me and are my biggest fans," Roby said. "I could not have gotten the law passed in one session without them."
For all that she has been able to accomplish, Roby is still a survivor of domestic violence.
"I still have to deal with the effects of years of domestic violence," she said. "I lived with that for over a decade."
She still goes about with a packed bag in her car. Over the last five years, she has had to relocate five times.
"Even in my situation, with what I have achieved, I am still a survivor," Roby said. "If something happens at 2 a.m., I know where I can come. The shelter is still here to help me."
Above all, the center helped her believe that she could make it on her own.
"I cannot be thankful enough," Roby said. "I firmly believe that God places people in our path when we most need them. God definitely placed the shelter in my path."