By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Seven years ago, Safe Connections adopted a new name that represented a shift in the organization’s emphasis: from serving female survivors of sexual and domestic violence to embracing both sexes and working to prevent and end the violence.
“The name communicates boldly that everyone must care and be part of the solution,” said Susan Kidder, executive director since 2007. The 38-year-old nonprofit previously was known as Women’s Support and Community Services.
“Women are not the only ones who care about this or need our services. We needed to welcome boys and men to be leaders among their peers to promote healthy relationships,” Kidder said. “Young men need to be encouraged to embrace healthy masculinity, have self-respect and to view women and girls as equals.”
That’s where Safe Connections’ prevention education programs come into play. The nonprofit has educators who work with middle, high school and college students on gender roles, stereotypes, sexual harassment, online safety and bystander intervention, all strategies important in developing healthy, respectful relationships.
“We go to schools and try to communicate with young men and help them see their own value,” said James Meinert, one of the educators.
About 12,000 young people participate in the educational programs every year, either in schools or in places like Epworth Children’s Center, Marygrove, Girls Inc. or juvenile detention centers.
Safe Connections’ other programs include a crisis helpline, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and therapy and support programs for survivors of domestic or sexual violence, including women, teen girls and boys.
The helpline was Safe Connections’ original program when it was founded by three Washington University students in 1976. The original line was staffed by volunteers, and today’s helpline workers are highly trained professionals and volunteers who listen to callers and help them identify their options and make decisions.
“Our focus is not telling people what they ought to do,” Kidder said. “We provide help through a guided conversation,” suggesting safety strategies and connecting callers to resources in the community, including emergency shelter if needed.
The confidential crisis line fields between 5,000 and 7,000 calls a year, a number that is stable while visits to Safe Connections’ website have been growing. The site has an “escape” button that gives a browser a way to quickly exit the site if an abuser comes into the room.
Safe Connections serves about 17,000 people a year through crisis intervention and education. It serves approximately 800 women, teen girls and boys in therapy and support groups.
“We are here for those in a domestic or sexual violence situation and for those who want to know how to help,” Kidder said.
United Way has designated Safe Connections a “high performing” organization, and Focus St. Louis this year awarded it a “What’s Right With the Region Award.” The nonprofit holds accreditation nationally through the Council on Accreditation in addition to being a BBB Accredited Charity.
“We’re honored to be BBB Accredited because it shows we are responsible stewards and that we operate with integrity,” Kidder said.
Safe Connections keeps tabs on demographics and performance and analyzes the data to find ways to improve. Youth who participate in its educational programs are tested before and after sessions to determine the programs’ impact. Safe Connections surveys clients on satisfaction with its services twice a year and its staff once a year.
Kidder said the staff has grown to 45 from 18 over the last six years. There are more male staff members as a result of Safe Connections’ increasing emphasis on preventing violence through educating young men.
Safe Connections’ funding comes from the United Way, local, state and federal government grants, special events, private and corporate support as well as individual donors. A Young Professionals Group formed four years ago has helped raise funds and awareness, Kidder said.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. This year’s TORCH Award Luncheon will be Oct. 14 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St .Louis. For more information, click here.