At the celebration in August of its 40th Anniversary Gala in Wytheville, Virginia, the Family Resource Center (FRC) Director, Karli Meagher, thanked Maria Timoney, RSHM, “…for allowing us to honor your passion and commitment for decades to survivors in our community. Not only have you had an impact on the community, you in the development and survival of our program.”
The following reflection was Sister Maria’s response to the honor received:
My very first awareness of the Family Resource Center was way back in 1983 (40 years ago) when I learned that a group from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wytheville volunteered to help paint and furnish its very first shelter facility.
In 1989, I started working as a staff attorney at Southwest Virginia Legal in Marion, Virginia, handling lots of cases in the Juvenile Courts. In those days, I don’t recall women contacting us self-identifying as victims of abuse. They called asking about a legal separation or a divorce or about custody or for help in dealing with the Department of Social Services (DSS) because the agency was concerned about the safety of children. Only during the course of advising and representing clients did we as lawyers often learn about the abuse.
Around 1990-1991, I was invited to join the Board of Directors of FRC. In those early days, we at Legal Aid together with FRC staff worked to create awareness in the community about the prevalence of domestic violence and to engage with law enforcement, judges, social services staff, and health professionals in the efforts to provide protection for victims.
In 1992, the facility on Main Street had a fire in the middle of the night. I was Chair of the Board at that time and remember standing on Main Street that freezing February night watching the firefighters and giving thanks that all the residents and staff got out safely.
After the fire and a period in temporary office space, FRC moved to a newly constructed building on the grounds of the Children’s Home. Both Legal Aid and FRC struggled with fluctuating funding and fewer staff than was ideal as we attempted to help victims do safety planning, obtain and enforce protective orders, and find safe shelter while guiding them through the intricacies of custody agreements. For the most part, we were very effective partners.
I reached a very low point in my representation of domestic violence victims in 1999 when my client and her teenage daughter were shot and killed by the abuser shortly after our court hearing on the protective order and custody. My client and her two daughters had been sheltered at FRC for a month and after the court hearing an FRC staff person drove all three back to their former home to pick up some of the personal things they couldn’t take with them when they fled. A Sheriff’s Deputy accompanied the group. No one knew that the abuser (husband/father) had returned and hid in the home with a shotgun.
After my time on the Board, I continued to act as an advisor to those in Administration at FRC. On occasion, the agency would receive subpoenas to appear or to produce privileged information that required responding to the Court. Also, several times a victim who sought shelter was, in fact, a minor, and that necessitated cooperation with DSS. Other instances occurred when FRC staff became aware that a victim was not adequately caring for her child, which necessitated a report.
As our clients lived constantly with fear and trauma, we experienced a great deal of stress ourselves. But in the midst of this, our staff did amazing service. In addition to our work with individuals, through our annual Domestic Violence Conferences, we provided ongoing continuing education for law enforcement, magistrates, social workers, attorneys, and counselors as well as ourselves. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in this part of Virginia for the last 40 years without the Family Resource Center.