Editor’s note: As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are featuring Courage Connection, an agency in Champaign dedicated to providing support and services to those who have or are experiencing domestic violence.
By Kelly Youngblood
With one in three women expected to face domestic violence in her lifetime, there’s a good chance you or someone you know has dealt with it personally.
But a local organization wants to spread the word that no one has to suffer in silence.
Guided by a mission that all community members deserve the education, resources and support to live in safe and healthy relationships, Courage Connection provides free and confidential domestic violence support and services to residents of Champaign, Piatt, Ford and Douglas counties.
Courage Connection’s roots go back to 1971, with parent agencies, A Woman’s Place and the Center for Women in Transition, laying the foundation.
Today, Courage Connection provides emergency shelter, 24/7 hotline support, legal advocacy, counseling/support groups, rapid rehousing services, bilingual support, and community education to more than 10,000 unique individuals every year.
With a staff of 30, Courage Connection operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week helping clients through counseling; manning a domestic violence hotline; finding stable housing situations; and helping attain orders of protection. So far this year, they’ve assisted in getting more than 800 orders of protection.
Elizabeth McGreal Cook, the CEO of Courage Connection, said the key to the agency’s success is its team of employees and their expertise.
“We have the most amazing team at Courage Connection. I can’t say enough about their spirit, work ethic and professionalism. They’re just so good at what they do,” said Cook.
The staff at Courage Connection faced one of its biggest challenges yet this year when it was forced to come up with its own version of pandemic planning. But Cook said they decided early on they were “all in” and began adapting to ensure no services were discontinued.
Within 48 hours of the stay-at-home order in March, counselors switched to virtual counseling and support groups went to a video platform. To provide safety and security to residents living communally, clients were moved to local hotels to properly social distance.
Worried about hotline calls dropping, they decided to really push awareness — delivering mass mailings to 37,000 households and distributing thousands of fliers to apartment complexes to get the word out that they were still open for business.
The results of their efforts were heartening and a little surprising. Overall, the number of clients they serve now is higher than it was a year ago.
Without transportation or child care concerns, the virtual counseling model has been very beneficial for clients.
“What we found is that sometimes virtual counseling is actually a better fit,” Cook said. “Just because you can’t get to us doesn’t mean we can’t get to you.”
Cook feels fortunate the experience presented the opportunity for more service innovation. “The silver lining is having an even stronger approach to what we do.”
Cook credits the Courage Connection team, including a supportive and engaged Board of Directors, for getting them to where they are today.
The job may be challenging, but the reward is great, especially when they see a client recover from domestic abuse.
Osajuli Cravens, marketing and communications manager, said in her position she’s experienced both heartbreak and pride. “We get those phone calls. ‘You helped me and I just want to give back.'”
Cravens said a man who lived in the women’s shelter in the 1980s as a child with his mother called out of the blue last year just to say thank you.
Cook can recall occasions where she’s been in public wearing a Courage Connection t-shirt and former clients have approached her just to disclose their appreciation.
“It’s amazing,” Cook said. “Those intimate moments you have with people when they know you work here.”
If you or someone you know needs help dealing with domestic violence, call the Courage Connection hotline at (217) 384-4390 or (877) 384-4390. For more information about partnering with Courage Connection, call (217) 352-7152 or visit www.courageconection.org.