“Sandra has been with us forever. I mean, literally. I’ve worked for the shelter on two different occasions, and she has been here even before the first time,” Women and Children First Executive Director Angela McGraw says of Sandra Storment, Little Rock do-gooder extraordinaire and president of Storment Consulting.
Contributing to many community organizations through the years, Storment has been on the list of the Top 100 Women in Arkansas by Arkansas Business, is a former member of the Arkansas Women’s Leadership Forum and past president and secretary for the Arkansas Women Executives Organization, and she even won the WCF’s Peacekeeper Award in 2021.
Today, Storment’s title with WCF is board member, but McGraw says she adds so much more value than the title suggests.
“She is always here whenever we need her. She comes to strategic and goal planning meetings, but she also comes to our Christmas party we hold for our guests.”
Her dedication to domestic violence victims is “unwavering and bold” and, with her corporate background in human resources, she has left her mark on the internal workings of the nonprofit, too.
Storment has served as board president, on the executive committee, chair and co-chair for numerous events and committees and is even responsible for keeping the character of the 115-year-old shelter by ensuring the colors, curtains and furniture inside reflect its history.
“When I began volunteering in the late '80s for WCF, who could have imagined that 35 years later, I would still be an enthusiastic, committed volunteer on the board and the executive committee?” Storment says.
First Commercial Bank (now Regions Bank) is to blame. Storment spent 26 years there in a career as regional senior vice president of human resources. The bank asked officers to select two volunteer organizations and encouraged them to give of their time and talents. One of Storment’s was WCF.
“I believe women need to find a way up and a way out from domestic abuse,” Storment says. “No one has to go it alone. And most all of us know someone, someone’s family member or friends and relatives who have been subjected to abuse.”
WCF is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is the largest, continually operating domestic violence shelter in central Arkansas whose mission includes safety, strength and hope for all victims of family violence.
“Supporting people and helping them grow and succeed was one of the things I loved best about my career,” says Storment of her natural fit within the organization.
“My goodness, as I sit here and think about Sandra, I could just go on and on,” McGraw says. “She sends thank you notes out of the blue. She says thank you at times no one else does. No wonder we’ve held on to her so tight throughout the years. She’s family, and we couldn’t do what we do without her.”
WCF serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. Its staff answers the statewide domestic violence 24-hour hotline and offers safe, secure emergency shelter and supportive services for all victims of domestic violence and their children.
“Once they enter the shelter, we assess what they need,” Storment says. “We teach the empowerment model and life skills, so they may become able to handle themselves as working providers and be a strong support to their children.”
Additionally, Camp HOPE America partners with WCF to give children who have been affected by domestic, sexual or child abuse a chance to heal with mentorship and camping opportunities.
Originally founded in 1976 as Advocates for Battered Women by a group of citizens concerned about the effects of domestic violence in the Little Rock community, the name was changed in 1999 to Women and Children First: The Center Against Family Violence to better reflect the scope of services provided for clients.
When Storment first joined the organization, it was located on Battery Street behind Arkansas Children’s Hospital, but in 2003, with the help of a Webster University instructor and two semesters of graduate students, WCF sold the old shelter and moved. Today, the organization has a 54-bed emergency shelter for its guests, who come from all over the state and the nation.
“Domestic abuse is not something that families talk about at the dinner table. It is a serious ill in our society that some cannot bear to think or talk about because it is a painful subject. It can be life threatening for victims, and unless the cycle is broken, it repeats itself again and again,” Storment says.
In 2004, WCF completed a strategic plan through a special grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, and over the next decade, strong leadership, good financial stewardship and sustainable support enabled the organization to plan for the future.
Through its partnership with Alliance for HOPE International, one of the leading systems and social change organizations in the country, WCF was able to ponder creating a more innovative, collaborative, trauma-informed, hope-centered approach to meet the growing needs of its guests and the community.
Currently, it can be difficult for victims of domestic violence to access all the help they need. Inefficiencies strain limited public and private resources, and victims are often forced to recount their trauma to multiple providers.
Women have to find a way to as many as 20 different offices to get things like orders of protection and to replace documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses and school records to start over in a safe, new life.
Alliance for HOPE International started the Family Justice Centers in 2002 as an effort to solve this problem. The organization supports developing and operating Family Justice or Family Peace Center models around the world through connections with existing shelters, like Arkansas’ WCF.
This multi-agency approach provides one safe location for victims to find their resources. Instead of having to go from agency to agency, Alliance for HOPE’s model streamlines and simplifies, surrounding the victim with the critical support and resources they need. The Family Justice Center has been recognized as a best-practice model by the U.S. Department of Justice.
After years of planning and community input, in 2021, WCF was ready to commit to this state-of-the-art project for Little Rock and announced a fundraising campaign called "Campaign of Courage" to bring the 90-bed Family Peace Center dream to fruition.
“Did I mention that our [current] shelter is located in an old house?” Storment notes. “It was not young when we moved in, but has become increasingly harder to maintain and to keep functioning.”
While WCF has sustained its campus, improved security and enhanced safety at the shelter, it was clear that remaining in the current building would not be an option for the future and growing needs of the community.
The city of Little Rock agreed to lease WCF almost 4 acres in southwest Little Rock for $1 per year for 99 years. The property is surrounded by neighboring partners like a LRPD substation, the Arkansas Children’s SW Community Clinic, the Southwest Community Center, the Pulaski County Health Unit, Pulaski County Department of Human Services and more.
WCF has a steering committee and four work groups collaborating to develop the multiagency, multidisciplinary service center. This group includes individuals from the WCF Children's Protection Center, University of Arkansas Medical Services, Arkansas Children's Hospital, UA Partners of Inclusive Communities, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney, Pulaski County Community Services, LRPD and the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
And these work groups are coordinating a list of on-site partners to provide services like substance abuse counseling and mental health, immigration or legal services at the WCF Family Peace Center after it's constructed.
“For example, Our House, being the experts in providing workforce services, including employment and training services, will utilize the career center at the WCF Family Peace Center to assist survivors,” McGraw says.
Having an on-site computer lab, workstations with office equipment and a teaching kitchen will give survivors the skills needed to get an entry-level job in a variety of different fields.
“The entire process leads to education, services and independence,” McGraw says.
Research from Family Justice Center communities across the U.S. shows the new Family Peace Center in Little Rock will likely see a 100% or more increase in survivors served based on the expanded community services to be provided within the shelter framework. According to McGraw, this includes serving more than 500 families per year and connecting with hundreds of families who do not currently access shelter services.
With projected outcomes like a reduction in crimes and a decrease in anxiety and fear in victims and their children, along with increased victim empowerment and community support, the Family Peace Center is set to change not just the landscape for victims, but the entire state.
“The nationally-recognized and proven Family Peace Center model enables us to transform our community's response to family violence,” McGraw says. “Ultimately, this helps make Little Rock and its surrounding communities a healthier, safer and more peaceful place to live.”
Storment says volunteering has been documented for 2,500-plus years, according to historians.
“Gordon Hinckley says, ‘One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served,’ and I know that is true.”
HAIR & MAKEUP
TIPTON & HURST