MARION -- While the Women's Center, located in Carbondale, has been an institution in that community for several years, it also serves women in surrounding counties, including Williamson.
Last year The Women's Center served 297 Williamson County domestic violence clients, more than the number in Jackson and Franklin Counties combined. Unfortunately, those numbers are not an anomaly. Most years, Williamson County accounts for nearly 40 percent of domestic violence clients served in the Women's Center's eight-county service area.
The Rape Crisis Services arm of The Women's Center also assisted 69 Williamson County assault survivors this past year.
Williamson County State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti sees firsthand the importance of the work that is done through the center.
"Brandon hosted a 'meet and greet' fundraiser for us at Pookie's two years ago," said John Pfeifer, the Development Specialist for the Women's Center.
Pfeifer said since that event, he and Zanotti have been discussing the next steps needed to raise awareness and support for the center in Williamson County.
On Thursday, Zanotti announced a $50,000 Matching Fund Campaign.
All May and June contributions from Williamson County donors will be matched dollar-for-dollar.
In making the announcement, Zanotti said "The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in various ways. One of the devastating impacts we are seeing daily in Williamson County is the rise in domestic violence, especially violence against women."
Zanotti said the COVID-19 crisis is having an adverse effect on those numbers.
"Studies are showing that the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders may be advancing these statistics," he said, "and further studies are showing that domestic violence may be even more prevalent now than we know, as many victims may not be able to make those calls to law enforcement due to their attackers being present with them on lockdown."
According to Zanotti, domestic violence filings have doubled in Williamson County during the eight weeks of the stay-at-home order, compared with the same time period in 2019.
"Part of this campaign is a fundraiser," Zanotti said, "a way to ask those in the community to support a great organization that helps abused women in their darkest hours. But part of the campaign is also to raise community awareness about the realities of domestic violence, and how we can all be part of the solution to stop it. This fund-matching campaign has the potential to help the Women's Center's mission to continue providing services to domestic violence victims, which in turn helps me as a prosecutor seek justice on their behalf."
In introducing Zanotti, Marion Mayor Mike Absher noted Zanotti's commitment to victims of domestic violence.
"While we all find ourselves in this temporary position of crisis, we must not ever forget that there are those far more vulnerable than us. I ask that you join me and the others here today to support this work to benefit The Women's Center. For each person experiencing domestic violence, please remember that is their most desperate moment of need, care, support, and justice. I commend State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti on his efforts to support those victims as evidenced by his leadership and presence here today, but also for his demonstrated commitment to bring the abusers responsible to meet justice."
The Women's Center recently began a $300,000 Capital Improvement Campaign and the initial two purchases -- totaling over $40,000 -- were made from Barcom Security and Watermark Ford -- both located in Williamson County.
Installing a new roof, replacing 14 HVAC units that are aging and floor coverings that are "original equipment" are next on the list, followed by finishing an additional 1400 square feet of space to provide adequate, safe and separate shelter for male victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Pfeifer, a Williamson County resident, said "I've spent six years -- three on the board and three in my current position -- trying to dispel the myth that we are the 'Carbondale Women's Center.' We are not; we work with survivors in seven other counties with Williamson providing our largest caseload."
"In one-on-one meetings and service club presentations I'm always asked why we don't also have a domestic violence shelter in Williamson County," said Pfeifer. "My answer is always the same," he said, "if you live in Marion and your abuser lives in Marion, where would you want to go to receive safe shelter?"
Pfeifer said the central location "allows those in other counties the safety of being further from their abuser while still having the ability to get kids to school, keep doctor's appointments and more easily re-enter their lives when safe to do so."
Williamson County businesses, organizations and individual donors that pledged matching funds are Marion Toyota, The Diederich Group of Companies, First Southern Bank, The Watermark Auto Group Foundation, Peoples National Bank, Legence Bank, Heartland Rotary of Williamson County, Elaine and David Melby, State Rep. Dave Severin, Kemper CPA Group and several others who wished to leave their pledge anonymous.
"I am proud to help The Women's Center as they support survivors and work to end violence," said Jeff Diederich of his role as a sponsor of the fundraiser. "Their role within our community would be largely unfilled without these efforts and that of their dedicated staff."
Donations can be mailed to The Women's Center, 610 S. Thompson Street, Carbondale, IL. 62901 or given online at www.thewomensctr.org/index.php/donations by clicking on the DONATE button.