Harriet’s House needs your help

Published 12:59 am Saturday, December 6, 2008

Harriet’s House is a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and their children, serving five counties in this region. It is not a state program or a federal program, and relies heavily on donations from the public.

“We have a 16-bed facility in Marengo County,” said director Susanna Smith-Naisbett. “We also provide a 24-hour crisis line as well as providing temporary emergency shelter for women and children. We do provide services for male victims of domestic violence, and they receive the same services that women’s victims do.

“We serve the counties of Marengo, Greene, Sumter, Clarke and Choctaw. We help provide clothing, transportation, food and court advocacy services, and we have emergency legal services.”

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Harriet’s House is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity, meaning that all services are free and any donation to Harriet House is tax-deductible.

The House has nine staff members — five full-time and four part-time — to ensure that the House is staffed 24 hours a day.

“It’s a home like a regular home,” Smith-Naisbett said, “but with five to 16 people there at the same time. To get an idea about our costs, take your regular budget, add nine staff members, and you can see that it costs quite a bit to keep it going.”

Smith-Naisbett added that the House receives a lot of its needs through grant monies, but the grants require a matching fund to make them work.

“Most of the grants require a 20-percent cash match,” she said. “We also have a $38,000 grant that requires a 100-percent match. We do have some money that can be used, but it doesn’t come close to matching the needed funds for all of these grants.

“We’ve seen an 80-percent decrease in donations from the public, and that has hit our bottom line really hard.”

One of those grants was put towards getting a van for the House.

“We had to reimburse our employees for using their own vehicles for business,” Smith-Naisbett said. “This van would be wonderful, but it comes through the use of those grants that require a 100-percent match. We have the $30,000 in the grant, but we can’t buy the van because we don’t have the money (the grant requires).”

Relying on donations, Harriet’s House has been hit hard by the current economic downtown. Just as they reap benefits from generous donors during an economic upswing, so, too, to they feel the crunch when potential donors’ budgets are hit hard.

“I can’t stress how in need we are,” Smith-Naisbett said. “We’ve cut about $70,000 in salaries, we’ve reduced building repairs — the building was built in 1894, so it requires constant maintenance. We’ve cut our budget for education and awareness material from $5,000 to $250 for postage, delivery and printing, and on and on down the list.

“We don’t want people to think that we’ll close; that won’t happen. We just can’t access those grant monies without ‘soft’ money to match with it.”

Smith-Naisbett said she is grateful for any donations made to the House, but wants the public to know that the services that Harriet’s House provides are threatened by the downturn in public donations.

“The public has been great with adopting our kids’ wish lists,” she said. “We have a person who brings in cases of toilet paper and paper towels. The Pilot Club saved us by providing towels, and that’s great. People can bring those kinds of things; they don’t have to spend money on everything. But, we do still need money.”

For information about how to make a donation to Harriet’s House, contact Susanna Smith-Naisbett at 289-8985 or 289-8988, or mail to: Harriet’s House, P.O. Box 569, Demopolis, AL 36732.

Donations can be made in honor of or in memory of someone, and that person will receive a card informing him of that donation. All donations are tax-deductible.