HERMITAGE – State grants totaling close to $400,000 will enhance Mercer County services and supports of domestic violence and child abuse, state Rep. Mark Longietti announced.
The funding is from three separate grants awarded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency based on recommendations by advisory committees.
“Mercer County social service workers, investigators and advocates are an incredibly dedicated and talented group, but skills and determination aren’t enough – they need funding and resources to do the investigations, examinations, advocacy and one-on-one support their jobs demand,” Longietti said. “This funding from the PCCD is going to fund those critical resources – staff, training, program resources – that speed justice, foster recovery and bring hope to victims.”
The grants include federal funding to prevent violence against women for AWARE Inc., STOP project 2021 for $125,000 and the Mercer County Commissioners victim services program for $224,718. The county Behavioral Health Commission Inc., Children’s Advocacy Center medical exam component will receive $46,943.
PCCD initiates and funds justice-related programs developed by practitioners and experts in the field, with a focus on research, policy, planning, training, evidence-based programs, technology, outreach and support services.
“STOP is an incredibly competitive federal grant we tried really hard to keep in our county,” said Lizette Olsen, executive director of AWARE Inc. “That money allows us to implement training and protocols. It’s a lifeline for the district attorney and police.”
The AWARE grant is part of a grant awarded in 2009 that funds a sector response. Money goes into the district attorney’s office for two investigators and the sheriff’s office for service of Protection From Abuse orders. AWARE also underwrites overall training.
“This money allowed AWARE to work with different sectors for coordinated response for adult victims,” Olsen said. “It has changed the character of interaction from response to victims by local police.”
Olsen said AWARE Inc. was deemed an essential service and stayed open the entire time during the pandemic. The organization has been busier than ever.
“Prevention is always difficult,” Olsen said. “When you can’t have in-person contact, it makes it near impossible.”
She said the pandemic has brought about some “incredibly challenging” times.
“There were three domestic homicides between Memorial Day to Labor Day,” Olsen said. “That was quite concerning.”
She said they included pandemic planning in their safety training for victims to help them learn how to cope with isolation during COVID restrictions.
“We were very busy,” Olsen said. “We didn’t have a slow down. We had a lot of very nervous people.”
In part with the Mercer County Housing Coalition, AWARE also wrote and secured a homeless prevention grant to help people facing eviction remain in their homes during the pandemic.
“It’s been very successful to date,” Olsen said. “It assists with people moving into new places. We did that primarily to assure that Mercer County had a range of housing options during a trying time.”
Other concerns Olsen has had during the pandemic is a rise in violence against children and seniors.
“That is another area of violence we’re extremely concerned about,” Olsen said. “Because of the kids not being in school, we’re concerned about them facing violence at home. It’s a significant concern.”
She said there has been an increase in trafficking in the county, which the pandemic is exacerbating.
“We were just trying to do what we could to bring some relief to our community,” Olsen said. “When you turn the page on 2020, you’re still going to face challenges, but with vaccines becoming more accessible, our lives can go back to normal.”
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