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Norman Women's Resource Center faces severe budget cuts

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Many women in Norman search for comfort, assistance and understanding, and that's what they find in the Women's Resource Center.

Open since 1973, the center aids victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse by offering counseling services, assisting in safety plans, offering a safe haven for women to stay and serving as a rape crisis center, said Debbie Marshall, director of education and court advocate.

RAISING FUNDS
MONEY TO AGENCIES

Recently, the United Way of Norman cut funding to the Women's Resource Center's by 44 percent due to coming short of a fund-raising goal, Marshall said. Before the cut, the center was already making sacrifices by closing one day early to save utility costs. Now, she said, the facility is open just three days a week, with the staff taking between a 30 percent to 50 percent pay cut.

"It was a significant source of revenue," she said. "It limits the ability for people to access us."

Although the physical location is only open three days a week, its 24-hour emergency hotline remains operational.

But the center's luck changed recently when Lt. Charlotte Day at the Hillside Community Corrections Center saw a news story about the funding cuts. Since then, Day and Ruby Jones-Cooper, district supervisor at the corrections center, have been working on a fund-raiser, Day said.

RAISING FUNDS
On Aug. 15, the Department of Corrections will host the inaugural Hillside Community Corrections Center Poker Run, she said. Motorcyclists will ride to a series of landmarks around the Oklahoma City area and pick up a card at each station. The best and worst hand dealt wins a prize, which they can choose to donate to the Women's Resource Center, Day said. Riders must pay $15 to enter, with $5 per additional rider. T-shirts will be available for purchase.

Day said she was attracted to a fund-raiser for the Women's Resource Center because many women who are incarcerated have been in abusive relationships and homes.

"If we can just get (these women) help and education," she said. "We don't want these women here."

Day said she expects to raise about $10,000 for the nonprofit, so it can continue regular business hours and keep its staff.

Marshall said despite all the funding and pay cuts, the members have remained devoted to their work.

"One thing that it did show us was that our staff are dedicated, and they haven't just quit because of funding cuts," she said.

One employee even agreed to be a volunteer for the time being, she said.

But the Women's Resource Center is only one of several places that have received cuts from the United Way of Norman, which had 28 percent less money coming in this year, said Kristin Collins, president of the organization. In addition to having less money, the United Way of Norman has changed the way it gives, she said.

MONEY TO AGENCIES
Ordinarily, the United Way just allotted money to agencies, but now it is focusing on particular programs within the agencies, Collins said. For instance, Health for Friends in Norman received a large amount of money this year because of a huge need for dental care. Although there were cuts all around, last year and this year are incomparable as far as funding goes, she said.

"It's a bit like comparing an apple and an orange," Collins said. "In the past, it was just a lump sum."

But in no way does this mean that cutting funds was an easy task.

"Funding cuts have been heartbreaking for us. As early as last fall, we were concerned about the drive," Collins said.

Much of the money for the United Way's yearly fund-raiser comes from large business organizations, many of which have gone through layoffs this year, she said. And because Norman doesn't have many large businesses, the pool of money has gotten smaller. Marshall said only being open three days a week does not change the need in Norman.

"We want to be there when they need us," she said.

Collins said she believes this fund-raiser, as well as Norman citizens' recognition of the problem, will be enough to help the center out.

"Norman needs a shelter. It needs a place for women and children to be safe," Collins said.

In addition to money, the Women's Resource Center needs several other donations, including used cell phones, toilet paper, towels, gift cards, African-American hair care products, laundry soap and detergent, and vacuums, as well as kitchen essentials, Marshall said.

Day said she hopes there is a turnout between 500 and 2,000 for the upcoming poker run.

"It's going for a worthy cause. We need support from outsiders," she said. "We want to help these women out so they don't have to worry about anything." "Jamie Birdwell

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