For those who are trapped in violent or abusive relationships in Nashville, getting justice and healing their broken lives is about to get tougher. That’s because the Mary Parrish Center—which helps Nashville women and men escape the nightmare of abusive relationships by offering free legal assistance and counseling—may have to lay off one of its three full-time employees.
While the staff may not be big, they have done extraordinary work over the last five years. The center has helped thousands of victims navigate the Byzantine bureaucracy of Metro’s legal and social services network. The center’s work is especially urgent because of its focus on preparing for and dealing with the “point of separation,” or the moment when an abused person walks out on their abuser.
“Most domestic violence victims who are killed,” says Valerie Wynn, the center’s founder and executive director, “are killed during the point of separation.”
Since Mary Parrish Center’s founding, it has solicited Mayor Bill Purcell for funding, says Wynn. He has always obliged, including the request in the budget that he sends to Metro Council. Wynn says—and the mayor’s office confirms—that the center received just over $50,000 last year from Metro. The money paid the salary of a paralegal who helps victims file legal paperwork.
This year, she requested that amount from the mayor, plus an extra $50,000 to fund the salary of Jeanette Meneese, a therapist who councils the children of abuse victims while helping the aggrieved families navigate the court and child welfare systems. The donor who had been bankrolling Meneese’s salary chose to fund a different initiative at the center this year.
Wynn says that the mayor approved the initial amount but did not include the extra funding for the therapist. This meant that she would have to go before the council and ask for the money herself. To make matters worse, Wynn says she found out about the shortfall only a few days before the council’s budget deadline.
“We had no time to organize or plan” a formal request before the council, Wynn says.
What happened next brought Wynn to tears and opened her eyes to the power of the work that the center has been doing. At the Metro budget hearing, victims of abusive relationships, both men and women, stood and told stories about how the Mary Parrish Center—Jeanette Meneese in particular—had changed their lives.
“They helped me and my two kids out of a bad situation,” one woman sobbed, before begging the council to “please give them the money they need.”
A man came to the podium and pointed to his scarred face. “My attacker did this,” he said of the former lover who also gave him a concussion. He spoke of how he’d grown depressed after the attack and had even considered suicide. “But Jeanette counseled me and gave me her personal cell phone number. There were many nights that I called her,” he said.
Another woman described how the center gave her the tools to end a relationship in which she and her children were being abused. She said that someone from the center always “went with me to court, custody battles, the whole nine yards. They were there for me after hours, prepping me, giving me the strength to get over it and walk away from that abusive relationship,” she said.
“When I couldn’t breathe,” she cried, “Jeanette gave me my air.”
While the Metro Council sympathized with the center, Wynn says that it was too late to ask for so much. The council couldn’t find room in the budget and the Parrish Center didn’t get the extra funding needed to pay Meneese’s salary.
Metro Council Member Mike Jameson says this was a very tough budget year for every city agency and nonprofit in Nashville. “This was a year when we had to decide between schools and firefighters…. We had to make some very difficult choices.”
He also notes that the mayor’s budget is posted in April, both online and in the media and that “there really should have been no surprises for anyone” by the time Metro Council got the numbers.
“Now,” says Wynn, “we’re in really bad shape.” She says that she’s started paying Meneese through money that’s “set aside for my salary.”
Wynn hopes to apply for more grant money in early August but sees a bleak future for the center in the near term.
“I have no idea where we’re going to get this money,” she says. “We’re praying for a miracle.”
"I suspect you mean that as an insult, but your odd syntax makes it unclear."
Well said Steve.
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