Women and Children First’s court advocate, Pat Blackstone, helps victims of domestic violence.
For someone who is not familiar with their work, who are Women and Children First, and what do they do?
Women and Children First (WCF) is a shelter for victims of domestic violence, family violence or sexual assault, and their children. We have a hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, where someone can call and speak with a trained crisis intervention specialist.
The shelter also provides outreach services for people and their children who are safe and don’t need immediate shelter. These services include support groups teaching life skills, healthy relationships, parenting, etc. There is also a community housing program for those who have completed the in-shelter program.
Finally, the staff works with Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) and community education presentations to build awareness about domestic violence and its effects on the community.
What is your role at WCF, and how long have you been with them?
The program I provide is Court Advocacy. I assist any victim of domestic violence, family violence, sexual assault or child abuse that is sent to my office in the Pulaski County Courthouse. I assist in filling out and filing the petition for an Order of Protection. I provide information and referral to services in addition to WCF services, accompany them to court and provide legal advocacy. I have been in this position since September of 2011.
April is Crime Victim Awareness month. What does having a dedicated month achieve?
I think Crime Victim Awareness Month achieves many things. The activities put a face on all victims of crime. They highlight the work accomplished all over the state by not only domestic violence advocates but county clerks, the police, judges and other programs such as Parents of Murdered Children, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, etc. There are victim advocates in prosecuting attorney offices and police departments and many other unsung heroes who work 365 days a year to help victims and their families.
You must hear some very harrowing stories. What gives you the strength to face each day?
Even though I hear “very harrowing stories,” I am not the only one in the courthouse who hears or reads the stories. I can say that one thing that gives me strength is knowing that every day I am able to help someone get an Order of Protection and be safe. I also gather strength from the people who tell me their story because they are the brave and strong ones. They come to the courthouse, tell their story to a stranger, fill out a nine-page petition, and go through a seven-step process to get a temporary order. They are given a court date about two weeks to a month later where they come back to court and testify.
The process can be traumatizing, but they do it to keep themselves and their family safe.
You are in your 70s, and yet you are a formidable and tireless force. What is your secret?
I have very good genes! Seriously though, there are many people my age or older who are making a difference in the lives of people all over the world. Just look at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is 83 and still serves on the Supreme Court.
I also came from a violent home. My mother left my father when I was 13 with myself and my two younger brothers and sister. She moved us 200 miles away, filed for divorce and worked three jobs. When she left, there weren’t shelters or support services such as TEA, Medicaid, food stamps, child care, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you have to be abused or come from a violent home to do the work. I just inherited my mother’s strength. I also have a loving husband of 48 years who has always supported me and the work and has a broad shoulder for me to cry on. We have two fabulous children, Lindy and Evan, and a son-in-law Erin and daughter-in-law Justine, who bring me a great deal of joy.
What are ways that people could get involved with WCF?
There are so many different ways and no amount of help is too small. We have people and groups who come and volunteer in the shelter, helping to lead activities for the guests, providing a meal, or sorting donations.
We have a monthly Top 10 list of items that are currently needed at the shelter and always love it when people or businesses host donation drives for us.
We also need people in the community who will be a voice for us and speak out against domestic violence and make sure that victims know that we are here to help them when they need it.