ACCIS keeps going despite hurdles

By: Dave Faries, Editor
Posted 3/10/21

Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services has a fundraising event underway.

That may not seem like big news, but the importance of the Easter-themed “Egg My Lawn” event is not lost on ACCIS …

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ACCIS keeps going despite hurdles


Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services has a fundraising event underway.

That may not seem like big news, but the importance of the Easter-themed “Egg My Lawn” event is not lost on ACCIS executive director Peggy Payne.

Unable to hold major fundraisers in 2020 thanks to the pandemic, the nonprofit organization has struggled to keep up with the financial demands of assisting and sheltering victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Available funds are down 25 percent – and it could have been worse.

The county provided $7,000 in CARES Act funding to fill a portion of what is needed.

“That saved us,” Payne said.

ACCIS operates a three-room shelter with 10 beds for victims and family members to stay for up to 60 days. While there, residents of the shelter are encouraged to find jobs and housing. There is also a three-room, 10-bed transitional unit for victims in the process of starting a new life.

The organization also provides legal advocacy, assistance finding medical help and transportation services for victims of abuse – all free and confidential.

Money to run the programs comes from government sources and grants for the most part. But local fundraising helps cover any shortfalls.

Even with a funding deficit, ACCIS staff were able to provide 4,411 hours of service to victims and field almost 500 calls to their hotline in the 2020 calendar year.

Those numbers are down from previous years by 35 to 45 percent depending upon the service offered. And while that may seem like a positive, the reality is quite different.

To understand the data, COVID-19 must be factored in. When the pandemic struck, unemployment in Audrain County spiked at over 10 percent, and it was worse in many other places.

“Part of the issue was so many people were laid off, the victims couldn’t seek assistance,” Payne explained. “It gave the batterer more control over the victim.”

ACCIS staff heard of many cases where the abuser used coronavirus as a tool – threatening to expose the victim to the virus, for instance, or demanding the victim remain inside so as not to be exposed.

Payne says the stress of unemployment or financial insecurity plays into the batterer’s hold over the victim. There is no evidence to suggest the incidents of violence dropped in Audrain County.

“What we saw here was the severity of abuse – it was a lot more severe,” Payne pointed out.

COVID-19 affected the organization in another way, as well. To help slow the spread of the virus, the Audrain County Health Department asked ACCIS not to take in victims from outside of its service area.

According to Payne, the majority of calls to ACCIS for shelter space come from women and men from outside the county, even outside the state. These are people desperate to relocate and start a new and more secure life.

Payne and the board of directors agreed to follow the county’s recommendations. And the shelter continues to abide by the directive.

“It’s so difficult to say to somebody ‘I’m sorry,’” she said. “We talk about it all the time – ‘are we failing people?’ We’re in the business of helping people.”

Despite the pandemic, ACCIS remained in operation 24 hours a day for all of 2020. No staff were furloughed. And when shelter in place recommendations came, they rotated the hotline to staff members.

Payne says that hearing stories of domestic violence and sexual assault can be difficult in such volumes – more than one hotline call a day in 2020.

“But when someone calls the hotline and you answer and can offer them light at the end of the tunnel, when someone says ‘That’s the first night’s sleep in years where I felt safe,’ – that’s why I do what I do.”

Payne notes that area residents are always willing to help out, even in the absence of fundraising events. But the $7,000 – an average figure for the three years prior to 2020 – the events bring in is critical to providing services.

That’s why she is anxious for the Easter fundraiser. But it can be done in a socially distanced manner. The annual fashion show is still in doubt.

“We may have to figure out a different way to do it,” Payne said.


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