The idea of living without fear in your own home comes naturally for many people. If you’re at home, surrounded by people who love and care about you, there’s nothing to worry about, right?
What started out as a humble, two to three bedroom home, has expanded into Harbor House, a 55-plus bed haven and home to more than 90 percent women who can no longer live in their homes without constant fear of abuse. As Harbor House has become more well-known throughout the past 30 years, the constant expansions and scarcity of room to fit its residents proves that a facility to help women find enough courage to leave abusive situations is one of the most needed nonprofits in the Fox Cities area.
Although Harbor House is very much a necessity in the area, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding what they actually do. It is essential to spread awareness of all things Harbor House — its advocacy, educational programs and connections with other strong women, to show that there is still hope. Jenny Krikava, development and marketing manager, states that Harbor House’s mission “is really two-fold. One is to be that source of support and help guide people who are in an abusive situation by providing that immediate safety. The second big part is prevention, of course, how do we stop it?”
Many people in the area are aware of Harbor House’s shelter, but not the multitude of services they have to offer. From educational to children’s programs, there is a solid focus on the prevention side of abuse and how to identify it. Krikava states, “We educate people about what domestic abuse is. People constantly ask, ‘Is this abuse?’ It can be physical, emotional, verbal, financial and get people to understand that yeah, that is abuse.”
Krikava also mentions that children who find themselves in an abusive home are at a disadvantage for the future; they grow up with toxic examples of how to communicate. “Our children’s program is very important, and again, two-fold. It’s a safety piece, but it’s also educational. It’s really important to help them understand that this isn’t their fault. We give them tools and empower them so they learn how to resolve conflict and express their feelings in a positive way.” As children get older, Harbor House individualizes the approach on relaying their message. Harbor House sponsors programs in elementary schools focused on bullying prevention and eventually addresses the relationship aspect as children transition into middle school. For the high school level, programming gets a bit more creative in order to appeal to an older age group. “We have a teen drama group that goes into high schools and is performance based — peer to peer delivery is very effective,” states Krikava.
Some bold changes are on the horizon for Harbor House. “We have 55 beds, but sometimes people have to sleep on the floor because we never turn anyone away,” states Krikava. “Three fourths of our items and resources are spent on crisis intervention, and we would like to spend less time on that.” Lack of space and constant worry about finding space for residents negatively impacts Harbor House’s ability to serve the majority of people accessing educational services. However, “Social change like that takes a long time,” says Krikava. “Eventually, we really want to take a look at some of our programming to address the root cause of abuse: prevention.”
There are endless opportunities to help out Harbor House, from donating items like clothes and food, to volunteering for their crisis hotline. To find out more information, volunteer, or donate, visit harborhouseonline.org.