Lighthouse Shelter veterans recall humble beginnings of organization

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Lighthouse Shelter Executive Director Debbie Wallace, at the podium, recognizes members of the shelter's first board of directors at the organization's annual dinner Tuesday, May 23. From left, front row, Judy Kays, Wilma Garrett, Margaret Cott and Becky Hill. Back row, Rev. Pam Sebastian and Debbra Wilhite. Kays and Cott have been on the board continuously since the shelter began, according to Wallace.

Lighthouse Shelter Executive Director Debbie Wallace acknowledges that she was naive about the problem of domestic violence when she and several sorority sisters helped start the Lighthouse Shelter 10 years ago.

At the shelter's annual dinner Tuesday, May 23, she and the organization's staff and supporters had an opportunity to look back at the shelter's humble beginnings and celebrate the progress made in the past decade in addressing the problem of domestic abuse.

Wallace recounted how she first learned about the problem of domestic violence when Judge Hugh Harvey spoke to the local chapter of Beta Sigma Phi and reported that he was seeing victims of abuse with alarming regularity.

Saline County Presiding Commissioner Becky Plattner, right, talks with Brittany Wallace, daughter of Lighthouse Shelter Executive Director Debbie Wallace, at the shelter's annual dinner Tuesday, May 23. Plattner delivered the keynote address.

"I didn't know people lived like that," Wallace said. "That got into my heart and I just couldn't let it go."

The sorority held a fundraiser, Breakfast with the Easter Bunny, in 1996 and raised $1,500, enough to get something started, Wallace said.

The early years were difficult, though, with no facility to house victims and no trained staff. Wallace said they learned as they went.

"We remember back in the days when we had women who had been abused sleeping on our couches," said Wilma Garrett, a member of the shelter's original board of directors. "We've come so far since then."

Wood and Huston Bank donated a house in 1998 to the serve as a home for the shelter. The staff began to grow as grant money was obtained, and now there are 16 staff members.

The shelter has helped more than 1,200 women over the past decade, including 274 in 2005, according to the program from the dinner. The number steadily increases every year.

In addition to grants, the shelter still depends on community support. Wallace reported that the Jolly Flat Boatmen, who take an annual float trip down 90 miles of the Missouri River each year raised $11,720 last weekend, which means the shelter will also receive a matching $10,000 gift from an anonymous donor.

Wallace took the opportunity at the dinner to recognize current and past board members who have contributed their support and leadership to the effort, including: Tut Bellamy, Clifford Cato, Margaret Cott, Rich DePaoli, Wilma Garrett, Michelle Hansen, Becky Hill, Gabrielle Huston, Judy Kays, Pam Sebastian and Debbra Wilhite. Garrett, Kays, Cott and Hill were members of the original board, according to Wallace.

Wallace also thanked the staff of the shelter for their work, including: Laura Long, executive assistant; Sheri Witcher, accountant; Leslie Bradley, case manager; Debbie Allison, victim advocate; Bonnie Gilkey, shelter support advocate; Bobbie Jo Smith, shelter support advocate; Faith Manley, children's program coordinator; Sharon Fifer, receptionist; Mary Russo, holiday employee; Kenna Willis, thrift store manager; Chris Carver, thrift store clerk; Linda Ballenger, thrift store clerk; Stephanie Skinner; Ramona Zeller, online sales; and Jack Ussery, maintenance.

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