New Castle News

November 29, 2013

New director no stranger to shelter’s work

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A murder underscored for Debbie Hennon how important her new job is.

Hennon’s first week as executive director of the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County was marked by the death of Mariah Jai Anderson, who was gunned down Nov. 17 by her former boyfriend.

“It brought home that this is important work,” Hennon said, adding, “Literally, it is people’s lives we are affecting.”

Hennon is no stranger to the Crisis Shelter. She has been director of emergency and community services at the Lawrence County Community Action Partnership for the last 19 years. There, she often encountered victims of domestic abuse and partnered with the Crisis Shelter in offering services.

A Lawrence County native, Hennon is a graduate of Mohawk High School. She and her husband, Ron, have three children.

She succeeds Deborah Hartman who “decided to pursue other opportunities,” according to Cynthia Crognale, president of the Crisis Shelter’s board of directors.

Hennon views the shelter as “a diamond in the rough that needs to shine more,” and she wants to work giving it a bigger presence in the community.

“We spend so much time helping individuals that sometimes the community doesn’t know we exist,” she said.

“We want to make sure people know what we offer.”

She pointed out domestic violence and sexual assault affect all groups, not just low-income, and entire families, not just the victim.

The shelter’s services include prevention work, assistance with protection orders and helping make safety plans for victims to get out of dangerous situations. Staff members go into the schools with the popular SAVE4 program to help students prevent sexual assault and recognize signs of sexual predators.

Anyone experiencing abuse can contact the shelter by going on the interactive website, where they can chat live or email a staff member at http://www.fightforzero.org or call the hotline at (724) 652-9036, which will put them in touch with a live person twenty-four hours a day.

The shelter’s location — now at 1218 W. State St. — was kept confidential when it first opened in 1981. But now, Hennon said, a sign out front announces its presence because of a study that showed openness keeps the shelter safer because community members report suspicious activity.

Hennon is “always looking, always thinking” to see where improvement is needed, she said.

Government cutbacks worry her. “I need to help the voters understand how important these are.”

She said the federal sequestration has affected the shelter, which depends on federal money that is passed through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She just learned the state funding will be OK for another year but does not know what will happen after that.

Other funding comes from foundations and donations, which are critical to the shelter’s operation, she said.

Also vital are volunteers, who are needed for everything from answering the hotline to watching children during parents’ counseling sessions.

Community groups are critical to the shelter’s operation. “We couldn’t keep our doors open without them,” Hennon said.

The shelter has a staff of about 20. There are six apartments in the shelter and six in long-term transitional housing.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)