Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Bright City Lights, formed by former Jacksonville College students, is all about conveying “a message of true love, hope and faith in a broken world,” according to the band's website.
This spring, they hope to inspire residents to spread that message through a Jacksonville concert benefitting the Crisis Center of Anderson & Cherokee Counties, said Leo Loughmiller, the group's lead singer and guitarist.
“People definitely suffer on many levels from (different) kinds of abuse. I know people who were sexually abused as children who still are feeling the consequences today, in their life decisions and even in their marriages,” he said, adding that many “feel shame and fear about coming out about being abused.”
Outfits like the Crisis Center, however, “give people an opportunity to be set free from those things,” he said. “We feel privileged to be able to help such a great organization that is able to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community.”
According to 2009 statistics compiled by the Texas Council on Family Violence, the most current figures available, there were 196,713 reported incidents of family violence, in which 111 women were killed by their intimate partner.
However, approximately 12,000 women and 16,000 children received shelter provided through agencies like the local crisis center, statistics state.
Crisis Center Executive Director Donald Hammock said the local shelter has no “average victim,” but helps victims “from all walks of life and all socio-economic backgrounds.”
“These crimes do not hit just one population – statistics tell us that family violence affects about 7 percent of the male population,” a number that increases “greatly” in males under age 18, he said. “In the past nine years we have had several male victims come through our services.”
The Crisis Center, with offices in Jacksonville and Palestine, offers confidentiality through free services like protective order assistance, licensed professional counselors, safe shelter and provision of necessities like food, clothing and transportation while clients are in residence. It also operates a hotline number, 800-232-8519.
“The services we offer are unduplicated services in each county – many victims do not have the funds to obtain those services or the transportation (needed to go) to another county where (help) might be available. Therefore, without the Crisis Center, these victims would not be able to receive the vital services to help them become survivors,” Hammock said.
Statistics reveal that “a victim will return to the abuser eight to 12 times, and this is because an abuser has brainwashed the victim into thinking no one else wants them,” he explained. “At the Crisis Center, we put them through counseling to try to overcome this mentality.”
But, he admitted, the process is a long, hard one – “I (liken) it to the same brainwashing technique used on prisoners of war – everyday, these victims are in a battle for their life.”
The local shelter is funded through state entities, such as the Office of Attorney General, the Criminal Justice Division, the Health and Human Service Commission, CAC of Texas, United Fund, United Way and Cherokee and Anderson Counties.
“These make up half of our funding – the other half comes from our Resale stores in Jacksonville and Palestine, foundation grants, and community support,” Hammock said. “We also have fund raisers such as Walk-A- Mile in Her Shoes (slated this year in April). The reason we are able to keep our administrative cost down is that everyone – including the executive director – provides direct services. It is our goal to use the money entrusted in us to benefit the victims to its greatest potential.”
However, state funding isn't guaranteed.
Last year, the Crisis Center received a letter from the AG's office “warned there may be a potential 58 percent cut in funding for next year,” Hammock said. “This would be close to $80,000. Also, last year we were told that funds from CJD are running low and this could possibly be another $80,000 cut in funding.”
Which makes community support – like the proposed Big City Lights concert – vital to the services provided to victims.
“Community members such as Billy Bateman, who has taken the Crisis Center as his and Carey Lake Ranch project, make a big impact on how victims receive services. Our goal is not to just raise funds but to also raise awareness to the issues of family violence, child abuse and sexual assault,” Hammock said.
Problems, both he and Loughmiller said, that people don't like to discuss but are very much prevalent in society.
“The more that we can make people aware, the more help our victims receive to enable them to become survivors,” Hammock said.
Loughmiller agreed. “Speaking out allows people to know, first of all that there is help and hope for them if they have been abused. Second, it raises awareness to others of the injustice taking place around them, and today is the day to start because millions are already hurting,” he said.
“There are normally three types of people (when it comes to abuse): The ones who have no idea it is even going on, the ones who really do not care and the ones who want to help but don't know how. So we want to do a fund raiser along with a concert to give people an opportunity to be informed as well as be able to help financially. The Crisis Center is a great place that deserves support… we just need to help out where help is needed,” Loughmiller said.
This summer, Hammock will mark his ninth anniversary in service with the Crisis Center.
It's a period filled with “some good times, some hard times, and many sad times” – even occasions for pure joy, like the letter from a 13-year-old girl who came to the center.
That's “the one that always sticks in my mind … I was real involved in this case,” he recalled. “When they left, she wrote me a letter thanking me for showing her how to smile again and that she wishes her dad was like me.”
Experiences like that are what inspires him to keep doing what he does. “That is what keeps you going,” he said, adding, “I look at my family and pray to God that they are never victims. But, if for some reason they become one, I pray that there is a place like the Crisis Center where they can get help.
“If I am not willing to step out and provide that service how can I expect anyone else to do it?” he asked.
It's a sentiment echoed by Loughmiller and his bandmates.
“God has allowed us to have a platform with music, to be able to help people – we know that many lives have been changed, have been given a chance through the work of the Crisis Center,” he said. “We just want to help with a great cause.”
For more information about the Crisis Center of Anderson & Cherokee County, contact Executive Director Donald Hammock at 903-586-9118, or visit http://mycrisiscenter.com.