SHINE A LITTLE LIGHT … Executive Director of Sarah’s Friends, Katie Shaffer, stood near some encouraging wall hangings in a room where she often sits opposite someone in need. The light above reflects on the wall near the hangings reminding her of the reason she is there, to help shine some light on a hard situation. Sarah’s Friends, located on Main St. in Bryan, Ohio, is celebrating 30 years of helping people and Shaffer is happy to be a part of that history. (PHOTO BY REBECCA MILLER, STAFF)
By: Rebecca Miller
“Offering compassionate aid and nonjudgemental support so that no victim is alone.”
These are the words one will find at the website for this organization begun thirty years ago to help any victims of crime, but especially those of domestic abuse.
Their history began in 1991 in a small house near the hospital where they provided a safe and comfortable place for people in crisis to be interviewed by law enforcement.
Sarah’s Friends would also help direct them into settings where they would be safe. At the point when the hospital needed that space for more parking, Sarah’s House moved to it’s present day location, on the southeast corner of the Square in Bryan.
Sarah’s Friends, Inc. has gone through a number of modifications over the years, in it’s name from Sarah’s House to Sarah’s Friends, in its services as protocol concerning child abuse investigations has changed and in the area of to whom they offer their services.
Executive Director, Katie Shaffer joined the team as the Office Manager in 2014 and moved into the directorship the following year. Shaffer grew up in Bryan and is a 2008 graduate of Bryan High School as well as a 2011 graduate from Northwest State Community College with a degree in Business Management.
Concerning what it takes to do this job, Shaffer said that there is a great deal of training available for her online and she is continually learning through classes, as well as on the job. She loves being able to help the people who come to them – women, children and men.
She holds a full time position there and is assisted by Rachel Blanton, who is the Program Manager and Outreach Coordinator, on a part time basis.
Sarah’s Friends holds a number of outreaches during the year such as events for Suicide Prevention and the Blue Light Campaign.
Last year they did an event called Chalking on the Square in which they literally wrote positive messages on all the sidewalks around the Square in Bryan (with permission) and heard some great feedback.
One young lady let them know that the very day they did that, she was contemplating suicide and the positive comments she read helped her to change her mind.
They also do fund raising to help them continue on in this service. Each year they hold three major fund raisers. On April 24, 2001 they held the fund raiser called “What the Duck” in which people could purchase a rubber ducky and on the 24th they all gathered at the pond located at Stoney Ridge Winery, set them in the water and whoever’s duck got to the other side first, won a prize.
This raised around $5000 and was a lot of fun. In August there is a Golf Outing, which this year will be held at Suburban Golf Course. It is the fifth one they have held. The third fundraiser, and the biggest is the Annual Holiday Soiree, held in November. They skipped the one in 2020 due to COVID, but are calling this their 14th one.
“We just pitched that one,” Shaffer said with a chuckle. “We don’t mind skipping the 13th.” It is held at the Veterans Memorial Building at the Fairgrounds in Montpelier and is limited to 200 attendees. They will have dinner, a really great band from Cleveland and a big auction.
They usually raise around $20,000 at this event and the tickets start selling in August or September. (She said they do have a back up plan for live streaming if they have to, but are very hopeful they will get to hold this event in person.)
There is a federally funded program, Victim’s Assistance, in the county and they are kept very busy with all who come through the courts.
Shaffer clarified that while Sarah’s Friends does receive some funding from federal and state grants, they are mostly supported through United Way, Northwest Ohio Electric and sometimes the Bryan Area Foundation, with over 40% of their funding coming through the community.
They are able to assess any victims of crime, whether they are in a court case or not, and encourage anyone suffering in an abusive situation to come to them for assistance.
Abuse is a crime and even if it has not made it’s way to a courtroom, people still need help and she wants all to know that it is available.
They do what Shaffer refers to as “Wrap-around care,” meaning that it is more long term and assists all who are involved in a situation, such as the spouse, children and other family members involved.
Referrals come from schools, friends, family, courts, counselors and law enforcement to name a few of the ways they are connected with someone in need. In general they provide services to victims of crime in Williams County. Other counties have services as well for their residents.
They can guide victims into support groups, emergency financial assistance, where to get counseling and other areas of need. They try not to overlap of duplicate other services in the county and are glad that they have good relationships of working together with other agencies such as Shalom Counseling Ministry, Community Action and Victim’s Assistance.
“We all pass clients back and forth easily and do what we can do to make sure they are cared for,” Shaffer said. She sees Sarah’s Friends as a “spokesperson” to help people get the help they need.
Most people think of women and children as the only victims of abuse, but Shaffer said that she is proud of the men who are brave enough to ask for help despite the stigma that might come with that.
“Men are just as abused as women,” she said, adding “Most of the time it is not physical as they tend to be able to handle that, but many are verbally and emotionally abused. It takes a brave man to say they need help.”
“No one deserves to live in a situation where they are abused,” she stated. “We will meet with them and no one needs to prove it to us. I love that about our job… a person doesn’t have to have a police report or court information to get help from us.”
“We will help you if you have been a victim of any type of crime, regardless of gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, or anything else. If you have been victimized and you want to put your toe into the water of help, come and see us.”
“Coming here does not mean you are making a major decision. It just means you have someone to whom you can talk and from whom you can get some support.”
Sarah’s Friends, this “non-profit organization dedicated in the mission to empower victims of domestic violence and crime to heal emotionally, physically and spiritually,” can be contacted via writing them an email at email@example.com, calling at 419-636-7272, or dropping by at 201 S. Main St. in Bryan, Ohio.
They also have a website with a great deal of information, sarahsfriends.org.
Rebecca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org