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New community support groups in Hernando County

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The Hernando County nonprofit People Helping People is living up to its name, offering hope and help to area residents through two new support groups.

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Support Group is planned in conjunction with Dawn Center Domestic and Sexual Violence Services. This group launched on March 20 and will meet every other Monday from 5:30-7 pm at People Helping People, 1396 Kass Circle, Spring Hill. Call (352) 686-4466 or (352) 592-1288 for more information. The group will meet next on April 3.

Coffee, Community, Caring with Vets, intended to unite veterans of all ages, will meet one Saturday and one weekday per month. The group’s debut meeting will take place Friday, March 31. Call (352) 686-4466 for more information.

“The Saturday gatherings are for vets who wish to stay active by undertaking projects to help those in need,” explains a related flier. “The weekday coffee (provides a chance for veterans to) gather, comfort each other, share in conversation, learn about valuable resources and information.”

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A joint project of Dawn Center and PHP, The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Support Group, was formed in direct response to a compelling community need.

“PHP was approached by a young woman asking about any support group for survivors of rape. At the time, a quick Google search really didn’t show much in Hernando County,” explained Kendra Kenney, Executive Director of People Helping People in Hernando County, Inc. “Of great importance to PHP is to provide services and/or partner with another agency that can satisfy a need in our community. We want to be able to pull people out of the stream, so to speak before their situation leads to homelessness or poverty.”

To render this support group a workable reality, PHP sought the aid of another community organization – one that has long provided a helping haven for abused women and families throughout Hernando.

“I threw the idea out in a meeting with other social services organizations, and the message was passed on to Tracey Eagle with the Dawn Center,” Kenney explained. “We joined with Dawn Center who already provides support for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, mainly for its residents. We wanted to make a group available to women in the county who were in need but living their lives outside of a shelter.”

Now domestic abuse survivors throughout Hernando County will be able to access a second valuable resource, one to turn to for support and advice in these critical situations.
“We know women may go to the ER for medical treatment for assault, but I’m not so sure how they are directed as follow-up. This type of support for survivors of sexual assault is a critical need,” said Kenney. “We need to let the women of Hernando County know that there is a group of women coming together in a secure environment, no judgment, just help and support. Advocates from the Dawn Center will use their expertise in the subject to guide the group. It’s set up to allow for women to have an open discussion, and then the facilitator will keep the group focused and provide tools and other information to help with their recovery and survival.”
Shannon Sokolowski, executive director of Dawn Center of Hernando County, is pleased to extend her agency’s services to more families throughout the Hernando County community – by way of a joint extension of Dawn Center’s long-term partnership with People Helping People.
“Dawn Center and People Helping People have had a longstanding cooperative relationship. We are aware of the services one another provides and refer to one another’s programs as appropriate,” she explained. “The number one reason women and children are homeless in the United States is due to interpersonal violence. As such, Kendra, from People Helping People, reached out to see if Dawn Center would be willing to offer a support group at their site, specifically to meet the needs of individuals who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence.”

Sokolowski immediately agreed.”Dawn Center is happy to meet this need and understands that offering the group at a host site, like People Helping People’s Help Center, makes the service more accessible and comfortable for individuals who are already receiving other services at their site,” she said. “As with all Dawn Center services, the support group is offered at no cost to the participant, and their involvement in services will remain confidential. We look forward to continuing to serve the community together in this more collaborative way.”

Like The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Support Group, Coffee, Community, Caring with Vets was formed in an effort to serve and assist an underserved population.

“PHP also recognized a need to provide a place for our veterans to gather and support each other. Through conversations with area veterans, we heard that there is a need to reach younger vets (those under 50 are considered “younger”),” said Kenney. “We also heard that by just understanding that it is hard to ask for help, you are one step closer to being closer to them.”

And, says Kenney, statistics show that our nation’s veterans are in great need of this support at this time.

“It’s also of note that some statistics say veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless than other Americans due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. About 1.5 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness,” she revealed. “And, of course, PHP is very involved with helping the homeless.”

In Kenney’s view, Coffee, Community, Caring with Vets will work to unite and uplift veterans in this area – and in a myriad of ways.

“The initial meeting on Friday, 3/31, at 8 am is to set the tone and definition of what the group will look like going forward. For now, it is to be an informal gathering twice a month,” she explained. “On the weekday early morning meeting, we’ll have coffee and a light breakfast. The Saturday gatherings are meant as an opportunity for veterans to continue to give back to their community, something that is always with a veteran. For an example, PHP occasionally will receive a request from someone needing help with something that is beyond what we can do here (e.g., a woman whose husband was coming home from the hospital in a wheelchair needed a ramp built to their home – this would be a project we would put out to the veterans’ group). This group will be for veterans and by veterans. It is exciting to think what it will ultimately look like and the benefits it will bring to the veterans in our county.”

Both of these support groups will exist to comfort and empower those who need it the most.
“PHP encourages everyone who receives help or support from our organization to pay it forward, whether it’s volunteering with us or somewhere else,” said Kenney. “We know that by paying it forward and when the recipient becomes the giver, everyone benefits.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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