AMESBURY — Victims of domestic abuse come to the Amesbury branch of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center seeking solace and help from a seemingly impossible situation. Often escaping from a brutal household environment, victims sometimes have no choice but to bring along their children, who tragically may also be victims of abuse.
As a way of easing the fears of visiting children, the crisis center has been renovating one of its rooms into a play area. The renovations were made possible by a group called the Bright Horizons Foundation, which raised $10,000 for the project. The Bright Horizons Foundation is the not-for-profit arm of Bright Horizons, a for-profit company based in Watertown that has transformed hundreds of rooms in shelters, crisis centers and other facilities over a period of 25 years, according to Gail Massey, regional manager for Bright Horizons.
The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, with a branch in Newburyport as well, was founded almost 30 years ago to help individuals and families at risk because of domestic violence. The goal is to allow victims to live a life free of intimidation, violence and threats of abuse.
Tuesday, about 20 people, including Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center Executive Director Suzanne Dubus and Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer, filled the crisis center to officially open the children's room. After a ribbon cutting, with a ribbon made of paper hands colored and decorated by children, guests snacked on a cake decorated for the occasion and a tall-and-wide plate of cheese and fruit.
"I can't cut that, it's too nice," Kezer said, moments before cutting the ribbon at a spot that didn't damage any of the hands.
It took about four weekends worth of work to rip out and install a new carpet, as well as add shelving and decorations to make it the kid-friendly room crisis center workers hope.
"It's a place for them to be while mom is taking care of herself," said family violence advocate Karen Gordon.
The room, located in the middle section of the center surrounded by counseling rooms and offices, is indeed warm and inviting. Hundreds of small toys and books for children are overflowing from containers. Some of the more interesting items are a collection of hand puppets and blocks sure to keep children occupied for hours if necessary.
Dubus said the room fills a need she and others identified in the 1990s when it became evident that while they provided excellent care for victims, they could be doing a better job taking care of their children. Dubus added that it was important for the center to "prevent the next generation of victims and the next generation of perpetrators."
Afterward, Dubus said the room will make it easier for children to relax and open up to counselors about their living situations. The friendly room will also make them more willing to revisit the center should the need arise.
"It changes the entire experience for them," Dubus said.