Barren River Area Safe Space BRASS
Story by Emily Robertson
When the general public hears the term “domestic violence” they might think of situations that only occur in low income or lower education homes, but according to Barren River Area Safe Space, Inc. Executive Director Tori Henninger, domestic violence victims and abusers can be found in any race, education level, employment status or background.
“Domestic Violence is a crime that can happen to anyone and can be perpetrated by anyone,” Henninger said. “Abusive partners utilize power and control over someone they feel they can wield those powers over, and can have Jekyll and Hyde abilities to the outside community. A monster behind closed doors can be an upstanding model citizen in their community.”
Barren River Area Safe Space, Inc., or BRASS Inc., has served as a safe haven for any victim of domestic violence and their families since 1980. The organization provides services to the ten county Barren River Area Development District, which includes Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Monroe, Simpson and Warren counties. There are 27 staff members providing direct advocacy work with survivors of domestic violence.
While its location and size has changed and grown, the mission of BRASS has always been to provide safety and support to victims of domestic violence and their children; to protect the rights of individuals to be free from any form of abuse; to increase public awareness of domestic violence in order to effect systems change; and to provide opportunities for empowerment that lead to self-sufficiency.
BRASS provides a number of services for individuals that vary depending on factors such as how recent abuse took place, location and housing stability. The physical shelter at BRASS currently has 8 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and 28 beds and sheltered 405 residents in 2017.
“Our most used services are the 24/7 crisis line, where we had over 5500 crisis calls last year, and access to resources through referrals to local community partners,” Henninger said. “Our number one goal is to always provide safety and security to a population that has felt unstable and unsafe. Building upon safety and security is the foundation of all other programs and resources.”
In order to provide that safety and security, the staff at BRASS takes the matter of confidentiality extremely seriously.
“We ensure the safety of the lives of the men, women, and children in shelter, and make sure that we never confirm or deny the knowledge or existence of a person unless we have previously spoken to that individual and been given permission to speak to whoever is calling” Henninger said. “We also utilize a semi-confidential location, request police transports to shelter when entering shelter, inhabit a locked shelter system that requires a staff person inside to open the doors to the outside. We have numerous security cameras across the property to monitor and use as surveillance from inside the safety of the shelter or office buildings.”
The need for security can make volunteering with the organization a bit more of a commitment. In order to do one-time or one-day volunteering projects with BRASS, Inc. volunteers must provide information so that staff members can ensure that all shelter residents remain safe. In order to be an ongoing volunteer with BRASS, volunteers must complete 40 hours of training before any community service can be completed. Because of these guidelines, the organization often utilizes interns and practicum students in social service fields.
The organization is funded almost entirely through grants at the federal, state and local levels. Additionally, the organization utilizes fundraising through their eBay website and all funding goes toward the operation and maintenance of the emergency shelter, along with programs and services. Because of the nature of their work, BRASS does not host events, but they do hold a client- focused event called Dress for Change. Nearly 300 individuals participate during the spring and fall in the event, which helps them prepare for interviews and acquire work attire. The event is free of charge to all who participate and several corporate sponsors, including Macy’s, Cato and Fruit of the Loom, as well as community organization such as Bowling Green Junior Women’s Club, help to put on the event.
Henninger first started at BRASS in July of 2015 after feeling pulled to the position because of the mission of the organization and the reputation the agency had in the community.
“BRASS has been more than I bargained for, expanding my thought processes, engaging areas of the world I hadn’t experienced before, and creating opportunities to work in an intimate world in a professional capacity,” Henninger said. “My job bridges the personal and professional every day, working in an environment that deals with peoples lives, their livelihoods, and their futures. I see the worst of humanity and the successes of people who overcome all the obstacles to truly be free and live a life they never imagined was possible for them, a life most of us take for granted every day, a life most would consider mundane, but for the clients we work with, a dream come true.”
Henninger truly believes the impact that the staff and volunteers at BRASS have each day ripples out and creates better homes, a better state and, eventually, a better nation.
“The way that domestic violence impacts our community is greater than what happens in one person’s home,” Henninger said. “It leaks out to all areas of a person’s life and changes how you work and live within your own life. In order to continue to open up dialogue and create real opportunities for change, everyone in our community has to recognize domestic violence as a serious issue. BRASS is able to be that voice for the voiceless, a champion for the people who are scared to speak for themselves and fight with those individuals, side-by-side, to regain control of their life.”