Debbie Krumrei gets emotional talking about Safelight and what the organization’s programs mean to trauma survivors who have sought refuge from abuse. Past issues in her own life allows her to empathize with the individuals who seek safe haven at Safelight, a nonprofit that provides support for survivors of violent relationships.
“Volunteering here is one of the most important things in my life right now,” the Hendersonville, North Carolina, resident said recently. “I get emotional when I talk about this because it is so close to my heart. It makes me feel so happy when I can help someone.”
A RESOURCE FOR THE BROKEN
Safelight, Debbie said, is not just a place to stay; it is a resource for individuals who have been broken by violence. Founded in 1984 by three women (two who are now deceased and the third no longer able to participate), the organization evolved from a crisis-driven agency to one that now includes long-term services to help empower individuals to reclaim a healthy lifestyle.
The nonprofit that was initially formed to help battered women has gone through several evolutions and now includes the Henderson County Family Justice Center, the Believe Child Advocacy Center, Safelight Resale Store, a 35-bed shelter, a counseling center and the Dandelion Café.
Safelight provides several internships within its organization where abuse victims can train for jobs. The internships help them gain financial stability and experience, and strengthen interpersonal skills. It also builds workforce development within the community.
Job training is available at Dandelion Café, a local eatery that serves as the cornerstone of the program. It provides a means for victims to return to the workforce and provide for their families. The eatery, located at 127 5th Avenue West in Hendersonville, also includes a catering service.
The Safelight Resale Store teaches retail sales skills and a program called Sewing Our World Together teaches interns how to sew, make products and learn how to run a business.
“If clients come in and want to get back on their feet, they can become part of the intern program,” Debbie said.
At Dandelion Café, the clients can choose what work they are comfortable with, usually behind the scenes. They typically work for six months.
“We’ve been very successful in getting them into other jobs,” Debbie said. “They work through the program and try to get into a job in the ‘real world.’”
Debbie said placement has included everything from jobs at McDonald’s to work in a law firm. Her role, she said, is as a mentor.
“I call them my girls,” she said fondly. As the women complete their training and move on to begin life anew, Debbie stays in touch with them via email or by calling to check on them, she said.
“I am just so proud of them,” she said. “Seeing them happy makes my heart sing.”
DEVELOPING AS A VOLUNTEER
Spending her first 40 years of life in Cincinnati, Ohio, Debbie began working for her dad at age 15 and later attended vocational school. After a career in management and marketing, she retired early and moved to be near her mom in Asheville. That was 20 years ago, she said, and it was not until she moved that she began to seek volunteer opportunities.
Her first volunteer work was teaching crafts to cancer patients. “I’m a crafter,” she said. “Once a year, I would volunteer at Camp Bluebird, a retreat for adult cancer survivors.”
Additionally, Debbie used her craft talents to mentor women in local prisons. She taught them how to make cards and other creative things.
“I felt really good after meeting the women. They were mostly in for rehab for drugs, alcohol, DUIs. I felt I helped them get through their time and I hope it helped them to be better people,” she said.
Later, she and a friend worked with women and children with disabilities through a program at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
“We would work with 30 to 50 people. It was challenging because they were all different. Some had mental and some physical challenges. Sometimes it was hard to stay positive. It was probably one of the hardest volunteer things I’ve ever done but it was a really great experience. They would always hug us when we came back,” she said.
Debbie was led to Safelight through the influence of her mother-in-law.
“She was a great influence to me,” Debbie said.
Her mother-in-law was involved with a domestic abuse shelter in Beaufort County, South Carolina.
“I went with her several times and I thought ‘this is a great way to help women who have been hurt,’” she said. “When she died in 2011, I wanted to carry on for her and for me.”
Debbie joined Safelight on March 2, 2011, starting as a volunteer at the front desk.
“That was probably one of the hardest jobs, seeing the women as they came in; seeing them all battered,” she said.
For the next two years, Debbie worked the front desk, and then moved into fundraising. When Dandelion Café opened about seven years ago, she began volunteering there and continues to volunteer there two days a week. She also serves as treasurer on the Safelight Board of Directors and is a member of the Executive Committee.
“I have seen so many strong women fight to get their lives back,” Debbie said. “We do everything we can to help. We give them all the tools but they also have to help themselves.”
LOOKING BACK ON TIME LOST
At 59, Debbie said she wishes she had started volunteering much earlier. She was able to retire young and made a decision to spend her free time as a volunteer.
“When I look back on it, I wish I had started doing more things in Cincinnati but I had a long commute and thought I didn’t have time to give. But there are so many ways to help; so many job opportunities for volunteers that are so important. It makes you feel you are actually helping someone. That is the greatest gift you can give, even if it is just one person. It is very important just to be a better person,” she said.
Debbie said she does not think Americans volunteer enough. “America needs more people who care. With this pandemic (COVID-19), things will never be the same. It is an amazing feeling to give back, to be more positive. One of my dreams is that people will be more kind, give back and help even in the smallest way.”
What really concerns her, she said, is that programs like Safelight need donors that support them. She said she finds many people turn their heads to domestic violence.
“We have a really hard time getting new donors. It seems donors want to donate to something happy. They want to help animals or children. People just don’t want to talk about domestic violence.”
Because she chooses to be very active with numerous aspects of Safelight, she said her commitments to Dandelion, the Safelight Board and the Fundraising Committee take a lot of her time. That is her choice.
“If you can find the time to volunteer, it’s such a rewarding experience. I highly recommend it to everyone,” Debbie said. “It is an important part of life.”
For more information about Safelight, including Dandelion Eatery, visit www.safelightfamily.org.