With committed and combined efforts from law enforcement and local advocates, domestic violence was defined as an issue of community concern and determined a need existed for Seminole County’s own hotline and safe shelter. Victims from Seminole County found themselves on waiting lists for weeks on end for an open space in Orange County. Lottery winner Sheelah Ryan donated the final funding needed, and SafeHouse opened its doors on March 31, 1995, later certified that same year by the Department of Children and Family Services. In March 2007, SafeHouse opened new doors to a mission-built facility made possible by Seminole County Board of County Commissioners and the governor’s capital improvement grant.
In the late eighties, representatives from the State Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and city law enforcement agencies, judges, therapists, educators, health care providers and private citizens formed the Seminole County Victim’s Rights Coalition, Inc., to address the unmet needs of Seminole County domestic violence victims. The Coalition’s primary mission was to establish SafeHouse of Seminole to provide an emergency safe haven for domestic violence victims and their children.
The SafeHouse of Seminole opened its doors on March 31, 1995, and was certified that same year by the Department o Children and Family Services. Annually, SafeHouse of Seminole is evaluated for re-certification.
In 1996, SafeHouse expanded its base services of crisis intervention, counseling, case management, court advocacy and shelter to create the Early Intervention and Prevention Programs. These programs were designed to intervene early in the ongoing cycle of violence and to prevent violence in future generations.
Funding from the State of Florida coupled with HUD funding secured by Seminole County Board of County Commissioners saw the construction of a mission-built SafeHouse, complete with bullet-proof windows and dormitory-style living. The new SafeHouse opened its doors in March 2007, continuing to house hundreds of victims of domestic violence every year since.
Today, SafeHouse violence prevention educators teach in the middle schools, high schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, juvenile detention, Seminole State College, University of Central Florida among others. The B.R.A.V.E. (Bystanders Rising Above Violence Everywhere) Ambassador program, in its third year, sees more growth than ever before. The court program currently offers assistance to victims in filing orders for protection, providing crisis intervention and supportive counseling.
Major Accomplishments and Highlights:
- Established Lee and Joy Harrington Independence fund through sale of house Lee Harrington bequeathed to SafeHouse.
- Provided safety and comprehensive services to children, their mothers, and single women in the residence, (men in outreach), all victims of domestic violence, every day, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the past twenty-one years.
- Coordinated community response through the creation and maintenance of the Seminole County Domestic Violence Task Force.
- Provided community education to all first responders in Seminole county. (more than 300 paramedics and firefighters).
- Board Finance Committee oversight yielded “no management comments” by independent auditor for six-plus years running.
- Received Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society Community Service Award, 2014
- CEO Received 18th Judicial Circuit Attorney of the Year Award, 2012 and 2009.
- Governor’s Peace at Home Award for Victim Services, 2005.