Crisis Center marking 40 years

The Crisis Center of West Texas is marking 40 years and executives say there have been changes for the better through those decades.

Executive Director Lorie Dunnam said it is amazing to her just how far the domestic violence movement has come, even if you take the crisis center out of it.

“We’re now in a place where we have a partnership with OPD and the sheriff’s department where they have a program where if they respond to a scene and a survivor fits a certain amount of criteria that law enforcement officer is helping them call us from the scene,” Dunnam said.

“It wasn’t anything like that even 10 years ago, but to think back 40 years ago … I would imagine that those who were helping form that original task force would be amazed at how much progress not only the movement has made, but this agency has made,” she added.

One of the main things that stands out is the expansion of its prevention education program which is aimed at stopping the cycle of violence and creates awareness of the center.

Dunnam added that law enforcement is now highly trained in domestic violence.

“We enjoy in Odessa a very unique partnership with our law enforcement that is very important. They’re very important to us,” she said.

The Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) was instituted in Ector County in March 2020.

“… That’s something that was developed in Maryland and has found its way to other states. It’s an evidence-based program …,” Dunnam said.

Crisis Center also trains businesses to become certified partners.

Hannah Horick, communication and development coordinator at Crisis Center, said some of the organizations that have signed are Meals on Wheels of Odessa, the Odessa Chamber of Commerce and the Pride Center of West Texas. The program launched in October 2021.

“We ask basically three things of the certified partner. The first is that they take our three R’s training and the R’s are recognizing, responding and referring. That’s about a 45-minute training and it’s essentially the dynamics of domestic violence and how to identify it and how to help someone who might be experiencing it,” Horick said.

“Then we ask that they display our tear offs in their bathrooms or other slightly more private places for employees and customers. Then the last thing is we ask that they … post we have a static cling that says CCWTX certified partner and we ask that they will display that in the window and let us take a photo of the group that we can share on social media …,” Horick said.

The three R’s program is based on a program called Cut it Out, which is designed for hair stylists and salon employees.

“… They wanted to target salon employees because they get lots of one-on-one time with women and with people in general, but particularly women and then they might be able to recognize bruises on someone, or have more relationship conversations than a survivor might get to have with a member of the general public. So we adapted that to be able to fit a lot of different business environments,” she added.

The Crisis Center serves nine counties, including Ector. Another aspect she said that stands out is the collaboration with many agencies in Odessa and Midland and the counties they serve. The agency was formed in August 1980 as the Rape Crisis Task Force by Lt. Bianca Brister of the Odessa Police Department to address the needs of victims of rape, information from the crisis center said.

At a meeting held in January of 1981 at Odessa College, Brister and Kay Maley Schanzer presented the need for a Rape Crisis Center in Odessa.

“The dynamic duo pointed out the importance of volunteers, who could respond to the needs of victims as well as to promote sexual assault awareness and personal safety programs. By the end of May 1981, Brister and Schanzer had recruited 78 people, including Lorraine Bonner (now Perryman), the director of public information for ECISD and future mayor of Odessa, and Margaret Burton, city council member and later director of Meals on Wheels. These women and other civic leaders formed the Odessa Task Force to establish a Rape Crisis Center,” the website said.

By October of 1981, the Task Force had collected more than $22,000, the site said. The first Board of Directors was elected to then set the policy and direction of the center. Bill Duff served as the first president of the nine-member board.

The City of Odessa donated space at the Red Cross building on the corner of Third and Lee St. The city provided office furniture and agreed to pay for utilities. ECISD, El Paso Products, and the City of Odessa provided office supplies. Brister and Schanzer acquired volunteers, money, housing, and supplies to open the center in less than one year and without grant money, the site said.

The site said the Odessa Rape Crisis Center was incorporated Nov. 5, 1981. The federal government granted a 501c3 not-for-profit tax designation in January 1982.

The center has done a mail-out campaign for the 40th anniversary. Dunnam said she expects to have a celebration after the Feb. 5 Dancing With the West Texas Stars. In a year’s time, the Crisis Center could have close to 100 volunteers, if you count Wonder Girls Camp and people volunteering for community service hours, for example.

Originally, Dunnam said they were serving female survivors of sexual assault and then between the years of 2000 and 2004, they expanded to a broader crisis intervention service. At that time, the name was changed from Odessa Rape Crisis Center to the Crisis Center. Between 2000 and 2004, Dunnam said, they addressed all types of crises.

On Sept. 6, 2001, with the help of more than 60 volunteers and contributions from the community they opened Angel House.

“Our first resident entered the doors two hours after we cut the ribbon,” Dunnam said.

In 2014, she said, the mission was narrowed to respond, shelter, educate and end domestic and sexual violence in West Texas.

From her understanding, Dunnam said, from 2000 to 2014, Crisis Center was handling all types of crises. Then in 2014, the board said let’s narrow the focus and went back to domestic violence and sexual assault. That’s when they developed that mission statement response, shelter, educate.

Dunnam said they still get calls from people who need help with their utility bills, for example. But they have a robust list of people they can refer callers to, she said.

Dunnam said they probably narrowed the mission because domestic violence funding is very specific.

In 2014, the name was changed to Crisis Center of West Texas. Dancing With the West Texas Stars was launched in 2015.

“It’s almost our only true fundraiser. We do a mail out campaign, but currently it is our only what I would consider a major fundraiser. In February 2020, we had 1,000 people attend and we got in right under that line right before COVID,” Dunnam said.

The 2022 Stars and Professionals are:

  • Alejandro Barrientos and Kelsey Tanner.
  • Colby Brazile and Pekabu Whisenhunt.
  • Dr. Ghassan Fanous and Kristin Carter.
  • Paige Halphen and Jordan Johnson.
  • Angie Hurt King and Noah Guzman.
  • J. Ross Lacy and Madison Loewen.
  • Bridgette Meyers and Janelle Bell.
  • Camila Rueda and Enrique Romero.
  • Alicia Syverson and Richard Ortiz.
  • Aaron Thomas and Emily Hamer.
  • Sean Trotter and Brooklyn Anderson.

The Crisis Center has seen its numbers rise slowly back up since COVID.

“Certain things went down during COVID; the shelter went down a little bit, whereas people asking for counseling hours went up … We almost tripled. We had to hire another counselor, so people were reaching out more in the non-resident capacity and less in the resident. And then once everybody started getting vaccinated, we saw a little bit of an increase and we’re almost back to where we were at the shelter. But honestly there are still people who I know are weighing that with variants and all the things that are still out there, weighing that communal living even though we do have a very large space and they have their own room and their own bathroom there. They’re weighing out do I wait it out a little longer; do I enter communal living; they could be waiting on their last booster, or their last vaccine, or they could be waiting to see what happens with the next variant,” Dunnam said.

The Louise Wood Angel House opened in 2019. It has 61 beds in 16,000 square feet and they can put up a couple of cribs, Dunnam said.

Dunnam said they have never filled it, but they have come close.

“One of the goals in building the new facility was to eliminate the waiting list …,” Dunnam said.

The Lilah Smith House was in Fort Stockton, but it was discontinued in 2019.

Since Dec. 1, 2020, the center has served 534 total clients; 378 adults and 156 children; 255 are shelter residents and 279 were non-residents.

Eighty-two percent were female and 18 percent were male. There were 19 clients under the age of 1 and a total in a year of 13,254 shelter bed nights; 1,851 hours of counseling; and 649 community presentations, which include schools.

Shelter bed nights are heads in beds, Dunnam said.

Their average length of stay is 23 days.

“That’s very fluid based on what their needs are,” she said.

According to local law enforcement, they saw a decrease in almost every crime, except domestic violence.

“… Often a survivor gets their respite from their abuser going to work, so that’s the time when they have time to plan or make phone calls or do those things. If everyone stayed home during lockdown and they didn’t have that respite, we can’t really quantify but we know that impacted reporting. It also impacted opportunities for violence because the more that you’re together, the more opportunities there are for violence,” Dunnam said.

“After things opened up again, people came back gradually. It was not rapid at all. It was just very steady. It was a very steady increase to what looks like pre-COVID numbers …,” she added.

The year Horick started, 2017, the center served 310 clients. Its peak year since then was 686 clients in 2019.

“Most years, we get close to doubling that. It’s shifted a little over the years, but to have that big of a jump just within a two-year period really put it as testament to expanding our staff, expanding our services and doing a lot more community awareness and a number of other factors,” Horick said.

She added that the culture around talking to survivors has changed. Police are trained to identify the primary aggressor.

“It’s been a game changer in law enforcement. I’m proud that Odessa has been able to maintain services for survivors for so long without a gap and that’s been something we’ve been able to continue to offer. But there is certainly a part of me that is disappointed that there’s still so much need,” Horick said.

“I like to think that the world is really different now than it was in 1981, and yet there are still so many people in dangerous or abusive relationships.”

“I like to think that in 40 years we will have a much stronger education focus and the actual client services side would be smaller,” she added. “I think that’s certainly true of how we are from 40 years ago. We do a much higher percentage of education and prevention work than I can possibly imagine they did when they first opened … so I like to think that trend will continue.”