While it is an uncomfortable topic for some, domestic violence is a shockingly common problem in our community. According to the website for the Family Crisis Intervention Center, an organization that serves the victims of domestic violence in Wood and surrounding counties in West Virginia, it is defined as: “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.” And according to Mannix Porterfield in an article in the Beckley Register Herald and accessed on the FCIC website, around 600 people reach out to the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence for assistance every single day. That’s not yearly or even weekly. Every single day.

Here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, the STARS (Students Achieving Regional Success) group at Parkersburg High School has decided to try to help some of those folks who have had to leave a domestic violence situation. According to Cynthia Woody, a guidance counselor at the school and the sponsor of PHS’ group, STARS is a program that identifies students in the middle schools that are not traditional leaders but who appear to have leadership potential. These students are recruited for training to help them maximize that potential. When those students move up to the high schools, they may continue with the program. Each year, the STARS groups from all of the middle and high schools do some sort of service project.

For the PHS group, it all started earlier this year with a survey of the student population. They asked what students knew about domestic violence and also if they knew of any domestic violence situations. They were so startled by the fact that a full quarter of respondents actually knew someone who was a victim of domestic violence that it seemed like an easy choice when it came to picking a service project. “The students see it as an unmet need,” Woody told me. They contacted the Family Crisis Intervention Center to see if they would be interested in being adopted as a project recipient. The answer, not surprisingly, was a resounding yes.

According to Woody, there are at any time up to fifteen people housed at the FCIC, and many of those people have been forced to flee a violent situation at the spur of the moment, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. As a result, they arrive at the center in need of even the most basic of necessities, such as toiletries and a change of clothes. At first, the group considered creating Easter baskets filled with some of those basic needs, but the idea was rejected in favor of duffel bags, something a little more practical than a basket. Thus, the program, “Duffels for Domestic Violence”, was born. With guidance from the center, the plan is to fill duffels for specific people who are being housed at the shelter. At first, there were six people for whom they were filling duffels, but because of a sudden influx to the shelter, that number has shot up to fifteen. At approximately $75 for each bag and its contents, that adds up to in excess of $1000. Though they have received a small grant of $100, that’s still a pretty hefty price tag.

To cover that cost, they set about gathering corporate sponsors, the chief of which is Dansers, Incorporated. Next, they sought out individuals and groups from the PHS community. A number of teachers and organizations have sponsored individual bags by either shopping for someone or by donating the $75 cost. While Woody is encouraged by the amount of support they’ve received, she says that more help is needed, as new people continue to find their way to the shelter. The goal is to present the duffels to Tracy Handley, legal advocate for the FCIC on April 28, when she will be speaking to classes at the school about the problem of domestic violence.

While these duffel bags will go a long way toward supporting individual victims, the shelter itself is also in constant need of basic necessities, such as hygiene items, medications, household items, cleaning supplies, and even food. Sadly, this appears to be a need that will not be going away anytime soon, and there is literally never enough money to meet it.

If you are interested in assisting the Parkersburg High School STARS group by sponsoring a duffel bag, you can call the school at 304-420-9595. Ask for Cynthia Woody. To provide support to the Family Crisis Intervention Center, call the center at 304-428-2333 or 1-800-794-2335. If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, please call that same number as well.