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Someplace Safe raise money, awareness

For Catie Houck, her job is more than a paycheck; it’s a passion.

“I do what I do because I like helping people … Just to let people know that there is somebody out there to help them,” said Houck, crime victim advocate for Wadena’s branch of Someplace Safe, a 34-year-old nonprofit dedicated to eliminating violence.

Wadena’s site - the newest in the 9-county network - opened just over a year ago at 318 Jefferson St. S. Suite 3. From Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, it provided free and confidential services for 147 clients in the county: 69 victims of domestic violence, 11 victims of sexual assault and 67 victims of other crimes, from robbery to stalking.

Despite the website crashing for a few hours, Someplace Safe raised at least $4,000 during last Thursday’s “Give to the Max Day,” the statewide online giving marathon, said executive director Sheila Korby.

She said the money will go to support services at all locations, which served about 4,000 total clients last year.

“I think it was very successful,” Korby said from her office at the organization’s Fergus Falls headquarters. “We’re always thankful for donations and the generous supporters we have in the community.” Someplace Safe is also funded with money from the United Way, the state, grants and a small amount of profit from its thrift stores in Alexandria and Morris.

The Wadena office blends into a downtown strip mall, down the hall from an entrance that faces the main drag. In the first room, there are games and toys for children, while pamphlets explaining the range of services line one wall. A basket of free toiletries sits atop a table.

At her desk in the other room, Houck explained how Someplace Safe guides victims through their ordeals, whether it be obtaining restraining orders for abusive spouses or ensuring rape victims get proper medical attention. The organization also operates a 24-hour crisis hotline (800.974.3359), provides community workshops and distributes community donations, including winter attire, school supplies, old cell phones and gift cards for gas.

“I could see a huge growth in this county,” Houck said. “There’s a lot of need and a lot of people who don’t come forward.”

In October, she organized a walk around town, dubbed “Every Step Counts,” to raise awareness about her office’s services.

Korby said the first year in communities tend to be slower than following years. “I think as we become more visible, as we become more involved in the community, clients will reach out more.”

Toni Kraska, WDC school counselor, said she has literature from Someplace Safe in her office and, although she hasn’t yet, would refer students in need to the organization.

“I think it’s an excellent resource for a town our size,” Kraska said, “because these family situations happen everywhere, no matter how big or small the town.”

Houck is doing a great job spreading the word about a vital service for the community, said Audrey Brandt Loer, lead clinician at the Wadena location of Northern Pines Mental Health Center. “We can do the mental health, but if people are having safety concerns like abuse, Someplace Safe can help with the resources that I’m not totally familiar with like they are.”

By the end of the year, the task of growing the Wadena branch will pass to new hands. Houck is transferring to the Someplace Safe site in her hometown of Alexandria. She said she expects her replacement to be hired this week.

Although she won’t miss the long commute, Houck said she is sad to leave Wadena. “I opened this office, it’s kind of my baby. But good things are on the way for the Wadena office. It’s just a work in progress every day.”