Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention serves community

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, November 16, 2006

For years, September Wallace quietly carried the mental anguish of the sexual abuse she suffered in her youth at the hands of her foster father, uncle and brothers, who warned her not to speak of the abuse.

At age 17, when she confronted her foster mother about the situation, she was accused of lying and told that she should leave home if she continued to talk about it. “I was eight when it all started,” Wallace said. “Nothing was ever done about it.”

Weary from the emotional toll of these personal tragedies, Wallace decided to seek help. She found it at The Shafer Crisis Intervention Center, located on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. There, she gained the strength to reclaim her life through the center’s counseling and group therapy services.

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“It just became too much for me to carry,” Wallace said of her decision to go to the Shafer Center for help. “I needed to let someone know what had happened to me – I needed to speak out.”

Wallace has done just that, sharing her story with others and urging support of the Shafer Center through the United Way of Southeast Mississippi.

The United Way supports more than 20 local human service agencies, including the Shafer Center, as well as the Children’s Center for Communication and Development and the DuBard School for Language Disorders, also located on the Southern Miss campus.

This year, Southern Miss has set a goal of raising $110,000 to support the United Way’s overall campaign, spurred by the success of last year’s campus campaign that surpassed its goal of $95,000 and topped $100,000.

The Shafer Center, which serves an 11-county area, has five full-time staff members, including two counselors, a volunteer coordinator and an assistant director. Together with volunteers they staff a 24-hour crisis hotline and provide a variety of individual and group counseling services for sexual assault victims, including adults and children, as well as homicide, suicide, and missing family member support groups, free of charge to victims and co-victims.

Kim Newell, director of the Shafer Center, said support of the United Way’s campaign is critical to maintaining the Center’s ability to serve those in need by helping the Center meet federal grant requirements for matching dollars.

United Way funding allows the Center to pay for staff and its programming and offer its services for free. “For every $2 we get from United Way, we get $8 in federal grant funding, and we couldn’t get that without the United Way,” she said.

The Shafer Center, named in 2003 for the late Dr. Bill Shafer who served as director of the Southern Miss Counseling Center, was founded in 1983 as the Hattiesburg Rape Crisis Center through a joint effort by the Southern Miss Department of Public Safety, the Hattiesburg Police Department, the Forrest County District Attorney’s Office, Forrest General Hospital, and Methodist Hospital (now Wesley Medical Center). It was also known as the Sexual Assault Crisis Center prior to being named for Shafer.

Dr. Shafer supported the Center’s hotline service by having it answered at the Southern Miss Counseling Center and helping train his staff to work with hotline callers until the Rape Crisis Center could establish its own location.

“It’s not a service that many people think about as being important until these tragedies affect them, a member of their family, or a friend or co-worker,” said Newell. “And it’s not easy to talk about with just anybody.”

To learn more about the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention, call 601.264.7078; on the Internet, visit .