2017-10-15 / Insight

LACADA offers help and hope to victims of domestic assault

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601• npugliese@mihomepaper.com


Tracey Walker, director of LACADA, helps organize the several services beyond the emergency shelter and hotline that the organization offers to the community. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Tracey Walker, director of LACADA, helps organize the several services beyond the emergency shelter and hotline that the organization offers to the community. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER — To a victim of domestic abuse, the world can seem far away. Often arriving with the violence is a sense of isolation for its victims, a feeling that the victim is all alone — that there’s no help in sight.

In Lapeer County in 1991, there were eight deaths attributed to domestic violence. A group of citizens came together under the belief that any non-zero number of fatalities resulting from abuse is unacceptable, and in September of that year, the Lapeer Area Citizens Against Domestic Assault (LACADA) was formed.

LACADA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in Lapeer that provides free and confidential support services that include crisis intervention, support groups, court accompaniment, information and referrals, emergency shelter and personal advocacy. “It had very much a grassroots beginning,” said LACADA Executive Director Tracey Walker. “The only shelters were in places like Flint or Pontiac, and we needed something locally.”


LACADA Director Tracey Walker and program coordinator Heather Dhooghe are two of 10 full-time employees currently with the organization. As the emergency services and outreach efforts of the shelter continue to grow, so too does its staffing needs. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LACADA Director Tracey Walker and program coordinator Heather Dhooghe are two of 10 full-time employees currently with the organization. As the emergency services and outreach efforts of the shelter continue to grow, so too does its staffing needs. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Now, the organization has grown to several distinct components all aimed to assist victims of domestic violence and their families. The foundation of LACADA is its 19-bed emergency shelter, which is available 24 hours a day and provides safe harbor and support services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, that since 1991 has grown from its modest one-bed beginnings, but the organization provides several services to the community and to victims once they’ve left the shelter.

“A lot of survivors aren’t looking for shelter but for support with the legal system for subjects like divorce, safety planning or personal protection orders, or just a listening ear,” said Walker. LACADA offers peer support groups to counteract the feeling of isolation that survivors of abuse often feel. “It helps them connect with people telling their story,” Walker said. “You’re not alone in this, and knowing that gives them strength.”

According to LACADA Program Director Heather Dhooghe, providing longterm options for survivors is often as valuable as the facility’s emergency services. “We’re here to provide information for services that are available and make sure they’re getting that strong continuum of service,” said Dhooghe. By helping survivors identify their options and discover their strengths, it’s LACADA’s hope that anyone who is in need of its services are set on the path of a normal life, free of abuse. “Sometimes people will come here with only the clothes on their back,” said Walker.

The isolation that often accompanies domestic violence is often a significant hurdle survivors must face, and according to Dhooghe, helping survivors reacclimate to life without their abuser is a large part of LACADA’s services. “A lot of time, if a person is in an abusive relationship, they may not have work experience,” she said. “We can get them job training, education. We look at the survivor’s self-defined goals.” According to Walker, allowing survivors to define their own goals gives them a chance to empower themselves in their lives — the first step.

In 2004, LACADA moved to its current location on Saginaw Street, which marked a significant upgrade in much-needed space. Formerly, the facility was housed in a farmhouse, and it was important to retain that comfortable, home-like feel. “We’re still located in a residential space, because often survivors are scared and imagine a shelter to be very institutional,” said Walker. “When they come here, they’re surprised. Often that’s people’s last resort, coming to a shelter, and nobody wants to come to a shelter.”

As the shelter developed and the outreach services expanded, the decision was made to reveal their location, which had originally been kept a secret. “We went from a hidden location to a known location because we were concerned survivors were having trouble finding us,” said Walker. “We feel like we’re very connected to the community, and for the community to know us and to know what they’re supporting, it really strengthens us.”

In the early days of the organization, said Walker, LACADA featured a part-time staff of only a few and one full-time director. Now, to properly support its round-theclock emergency services and outreach efforts, LACADA features 10 fulltime employees and five advocates — workers in charge of working with survivors — who work nights and weekends.

“It does definitely take quite a few people to run this around the clock,” said Walker. LACADA has recently added an outreach advocate and volunteer coordinator to their team as well. “The outreach advocate is out in the community, doing presentations and raising awareness, and the volunteer coordinator manages our volunteers and coordinates with schools,” said Dhooghe. “Some of our volunteers have been here since the beginning.” According to Walker, the group values volunteers who provide flexibility and compassion. “We’ve learned with the shelter that you can’t always prepare for the day,” she said. “It takes a team of people who are very flexible and empathetic.”

With Thursday’s Taste of Lapeer — LACADA’s yearly fundraiser event, now in its 25th year — in the books, Walker, Dhooghe and the rest of the organization turn their attention to the remainder of the year. “Whether it’s supporting and providing information, or the shelter or hotline, we’re here to help,” said Walker. “The survivors come first.”

For more information about domestic violence, call the LACADA hotline at 810-667-4175. All Calls are free and confidential. More information can also be found at www.lacada.org or by emailing contact@lacada.org.

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