Story by: Sean Evans
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) – On average, more than 12 million women and men are victims of violence by an intimate partner every year. Many victims, including here in Chatham County do not know how to escape the violence.
That’s now changing thanks to the new Family Justice Center. It’s opening soon on Savannah’s east side.
WTOC recently spoke to those getting the center ready and the driving force behind the idea.
The concept and idea for a family justice center originated from tragedy in the Savannah area. In 2015, the community saw domestic-related homicides more than triple the typical annual number.
“On average we have three to four murders, and that year we had 13. So the concern at that point was what can we do to address it,” said Kristin Fulford, spokeswoman for the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office.
That spike in cases brought together Chatham District Attorney Meg Heap, former Savannah Police Chief Jack Lumpkin, and Safe Shelter Director Cheryl Branch to find a solution.
One of the issues was the resources families need in a time of crisis were spread out.
The goal of the new Family Justice Center is to make getting help a one-stop-shop.
Here, Savannah Police, the District Attorney’s Office, Safe Shelter, the Rape Crisis Center, the Children’s Advocacy Center and Mediation Center will all be under one roof – ready to help. To help get this concept off the ground, volunteer groups like this one from the Wesley Monumental Methodist Church have donated their time and expertise.
“I’m doing it to the extent of my skill set, which is nails and screws.”
Before becoming a master carpenter, Carl Pedigo was a divorce attorney.
“I spent a lot of time dealing with children in crisis and families in crisis, and I know how difficult it is for families to deal with the serious problems that are dealt with by this, what will be this facilities mission,” said Pedigo.
With regard to how the initiative is being funded, Fulford said, “We didn’t ask for county or city funding. We set up our own 501(c)(3) and incorporated, and the community has been hugely supportive. A lot of church effort, a lot of men’s groups have come in and done construction and donated supplies.”
The new Family Justice Center will hold an open house during the Arts on Waters Block Party this weekend to share what services will be available, and take community members on a walk-through of the building.