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Hope Harbor

Story by Emily Robertson

While Hope Harbor’s physical location is at 913 Broadway Avenue in Bowling Green, so much of the organization’s work educating the public and advocating for victims of sexual abuse takes place outside of the office walls in places like hospitals, classrooms, college campuses and churches around the area.

“Hope Harbor’s mission is to empower and support anyone impacted by sexual trauma,” says Hope Harbor’s Executive Director Melissa Whitley. “We are committed to our community to affect social change and eliminate all forms of sexual violence, advocate for the rights of survivors of sexual assault and abuse and provide specialized treatment interventions.”

First incorporated in 1985 as the Bowling Green-Warren County Rape Crisis and Prevention Center, the organization received additional state recognition in 1987 to help expand services and reach. After a name change in 2000 to Hope Harbor, the group now operates satellite offices in Franklin, Glasgow and Russellville. Last year,

Hope Harbor provided services to 402 survivors and educated 8,446 participants with the help of seven full-time, three part-time employees and more than 50 volunteers.

Volunteers serve a vital role in answering the 24/7 abuse hotline and providing medical advocacy at one of the seven regional hospitals. In order to be a volunteer advocate, individuals must undergo 40 hours of training in order to understand sexual violence and the complexities of working with survivors of sexual abuse.

“We understand this type of volunteering is not for everyone, so we have many different ways to utilize volunteer talent,” Whitley said. “We need people to work in our therapeutic garden, Hope Harvest, we need help with administrative duties and we need individuals to lead the organization through service on our Board of Directors.”

The organization works to help all victims of sexual abuse, no matter their gender, age or how recent the abuse occurred, Whitley says that while most victims of sexual violence are women, in Kentucky, 20% of men have experienced sexual violence. Hope Harbor also serves children with 25% of their clients each year being under the age of eighteen.

“It is very common for survivors not to talk about the sexual violence that has occurred for some time to many years after it happened, and when it is the right time for a survivor to talk about the trauma, we are here to provide crisis intervention, counseling, or assist with navigating the criminal justice system,” Whitley said. “We know multiple or single victimizations can affect someone throughout their life and our goal is to provide services to empower survivors to overcome obstacles by this crime.”

Hope Harbor is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and relies on a variety of different avenues for their annual funding. The organization receives money through a combination of state, federal and local sources, with 37% of the agency’s budget coming from federal grants called the Victim of Crime Act and Violence Against Women Act. Additional funding comes from United Way of Southern Kentucky to support community violence and prevention education programs, as well as fundraisers and individual gifts.

One of Hope Harbor’s main fundraisers takes place each June at Chaney’s Dairy Barn. “Dairy Potter”, is a family-friendly event with Harry Potter-themed activities. Hope Harbor is also one of the original agencies to participate in “Holiday Bash,” an annual charity benefit dinner and auction, and will again be a part of the upcoming event on October 18 at The Venue.

Whitley, who first moved to Bowling Green in 1996 from Campbellsville to attend Western Kentucky University. She joined the staff of Hope Harbor as Executive Director in 2007. After working in radio advertising and for another nonprofit, she was excited to lead the organization.

“This community has afforded me many opportunities to grow personally and professionally and I call it home,” Whitley said. “I love being a part of this agency and I am truly thankful to the board of directors who had faith in my ability to lead this organization,” Whitley said. “I am driven by the resilience of survivors and the passion of the staff that refuse to give up in the fight against sexual violence.”

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