Domestic Violence Awareness Month
● By Robert Frey
Iberia Welcomes Chez Hope
By Shanna P. Dickens
Sometimes it’s easier to pretend that the darker issues of society don’t penetrate our community’s bubbles. Easier to imagine these things only happen in movies or in bigger cities. Until you walk into Chez Hope Family Violence Crisis Center in Franklin and the women who work there inform you that the domestic violence shelter is always at capacity. In honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, these are the programs, protections and preventative measures that Chez Hope Inc. provides Acadiana.
Chez Hope was established by Elizabeth Richmond, a Mennonite Missionary, as a safe home project with founding members of the program offering emergency assistance and offering their own homes as safe places for victims of domestic violence. Richmond quickly realized the needs of women and children suffering from domestic violence, and she remained involved in Chez Hope until her death in the early 90s.
“In February, when SNAP (Safety Net for Abused Persons) in New Iberia closed, the State of Louisiana asked if Chez Hope would start services in Iberia and St. Martin Parishes,” details Chez Hope Executive Director Cherrise Picard. “I consulted with the board and they said yes. I transferred the crisis call lines to Chez Hope the following week.”
With overwhelming help from the Iberia community, Chez Hope found an office space that was ready to move into. Currently, they have a staff of four, one legal consultant and three direct service personnel. The goal is to take the services that are in place in St. Mary and directly mirror them to Iberia. Chez Hope’s goal is to open a shelter in Iberia Parish in two years.
The shelter in Franklin is an extremely unique building. It houses eight separate families in apartments. It allows families to have a home environment in which they can feel safe and begin to rebuild their lives. Walking into the building is sobering, to say the least, but it feels safe, and it feels like an area that could easily be made into a home.
“It’s not like a conventional shelter where people share everything,” Picard explains. “Each apartment has its own living room, bedroom and bathroom. We supply a few weeks worth of food until their food stamps kick in. Most importantly, they have privacy. Mom can do as she likes; she can decide when bedtime is and fix her own food for her family.”
Chez Hopes Offers…
• 24 Hour Crisis Line
• Emergency Shelter
• Emergency Food and Supplies
• Lethality Assessment
• Safety Planning
• Crisis Intervention
• Option Counseling
• Non-Residential Services
• Legal Services
• Emergency Transportation
• Survivor Weekly Support Groups
• Children’s Weekly Support Groups
• Public Awareness/Speaking Program
• On-going Support With Networking Of Community Resources
• Children’s In-School Educational Programs
Who They Help
The services and assistance that Chez Hope provides far exceeds those they provide to their residents. Chez Hope serves as a starting place for any abused person who is scared and looking for answers. They can explain all of the options and resources available.
“You can call in and just talk,” stresses Picard. “You can talk through your issues. We can explain what a restraining order is and explain what services exist within the community to help.”
When domestic violence occurs in a family unit, the person receiving the abuse isn’t the only one impacted. Chez Hope puts a special emphasis on children, both residential and non-residential.
Residential Children’s Programs
• Full time Children’s Coordinator
• Primary area of services is the Children’s Center, which is 1,500 square feet and includes an office space, a space for small children, a craft room, a kitchen, a library and a teen room.
• The Children’s Coordinator provides daily age-appropriate groups.
• The Homeless Education Program provides a certified teacher four days a week to tutor the children.
• Other group activities are held for the children for holidays and when school is out.
Non-Residential Children’s Program
• The program assists children who are not residing in the shelter by conducting weekly support and play groups.
• Assisting survivors with the basic needs a child may have
• Assisting with school registration
• Assisting with school supplies when available
Abuse knows no race, age, gender or socioeconomic standing. Men are victims of abuse also. Since February, Chez Hope has assisted 60 men in Iberia Parish. Chez Hope also offers mentoring to those who inflict abuse with the Batterer’s Intervention Program (BIP). This court-ordered education program is designed to address men’s beliefs and follows the Duluth DAIP Program. It’s financially self-supporting as the participants are charged for educational group sessions. BIP is a 26-week, 2-hours-per-week, open-ended class.
“October is really big for us,” says Picard. “We’re out in the community trying to let as many people as possible know that we appreciate what they do for us.”
Chez Hope contributes so much of their success to the close relationships they have with law enforcement and first responders. During the month of October, they show appreciation through their programs Kiss a Cop, Save a Fireman, Nestles for Nurses and Popcorn for Paramedics. As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, in local businesses, Chez Hopes places, silhouettes of victims of domestic violence who lost their lives, including their story. The imagery is somber and impactful for the entire community.
“Chez Hope could not do what we do without our community partners,” Picard professes. “District Attorney Bo Duhe has been so wonderful in helping us get started in our other two parishes. The Clerk of Court in Iberia Parish and so many other local businesses have been so helpful and receptive. Running a nonprofit is not easy. So, the community support means everything.”
They are already working closely with the Iberia Parish School Board to implement their programs Bully Free Kids, Hands Are Not for Hitting and Teen Dating Violence. On October 26, Chez Hope will hold the Ribbon Cutting for their New Iberia office. In conjunction with this event, they will also hold a candlelight vigil. In addition. they will be closing out the Fit, Fun, Fabulous event on October 5 in Franklin with a candlelight vigil.
“It’s easy for me to sell Chez Hope, because I believe in it,” says Community Advocate for Iberia Parish Sharon Russo. “Iberia, as a community, has been so receptive and welcoming. It’s so exciting to see everything that we’ll be able to do here.”
To learn what you can do to assist Chez Hope or attend any of their events, follow them on Facebook or visit their website chezhope.com.
Chez Hope Family Violence Crisis Center Hotline Number: