Local nonprofits providing victims' services receive $500,000 in grant money

Two victims’ services organizations in Dorchester County have been named recipients of grants to be handed out by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office next month.

A total of $38 million in federal and state grants is going to various groups across the state starting Oct. 1. About $9.4 million of that money will benefit Lowcountry organizations, according to the attorney general’s office.

The money, 98 percent federal, is divided into Victims of Crime Act grants, Violence Against Women Act grants, and State Victim Assistance Program grants.

In Dorchester County, the nonprofit Doors to Freedom is set to receive $300,000; Dorchester Children’s Center is getting $200,000.

Doors to Freedom

According to Tim Young, director of development for Doors to Freedom, the grant is just what the nonprofit needs to move forward with its long-term goal to open a home for juvenile girls who’ve been victims of sex trafficking.

“That’s kind of always been our dream,” he said.

The organization started in 2011 and has helped at least 30 girls and teens transition from a live of sex slavery and abuse to a life of freedom and normalcy.

Through therapy and etiquette to education and career guidance, nonprofit officials give victims a new identity and goals as they take time to physically and emotionally heal.

“These girls deserve so much; they deserve the best,” Young said.

Local victims' services organizations receive $500,000 in grant money

Volunteers with Doors to Freedom put together beds inside the future home for juvenile sex trafficking victims.

Director Sharon Rikard previously told the Journal Scene at least 100,000 children are trafficked across the United States, but nearly 300,000 are at risk.

In recent years S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has created a Human Trafficking Task Force, in addition to promoting better laws articulating the existence of sex trafficking in the state, where no such laws existed prior to 2012, according to North Charleston police officials. The law enforcement agency is still the only one in the state with an actual unit dedicated to catching traffickers and helping victims.

Rikard said it was her encounters over the years, sitting and talking with young girls inside jail walls, that prompted her to start Doors to Freedom, first in North Charleston.

Though the nonprofit currently operates within the county, it isn’t limited to Dorchester County residents. Anyone across the Lowcountry is welcome.

Over the last year, Doors to Freedom’s future juvenile residence has been the site of remodeling and repairs as officials prepare to open it in early 2018. It will house up to 10 girls. And it would already be filled if it was in operation today.

“Those girls are out there and need a place to go and stay,” Young said.

The delay is due in part to the need for more money to secure certain household items, like a kitchen hood, and ensure the residence will be one of “excellence” when hurting victims walk through its doors.

Young estimated it would cost upwards of $600,000 annually to operate the home, and the recent grant will be used to cover the salary costs of three full-time staff members, in addition to office supplies and other home necessities.

“This boost—it’s exactly what we needed,” Young said. “It’s what we needed to get off the ground.”

And the more funds that pour in from community donations, the better.

“We need those funds quickly so we can open up as soon as possible.”

Even after the home is ready, the Department of Social Services has to inspect it, Young said. Plus, DSS requires a three-month waiting period prior to the opening.

Those interested in donating to the nonprofit can visit doorstofreedom.com for more information.

Dorchester Children's Center

For Dorchester Children’s Center, the focus of services has also been on victimized children. Over the years victims have poured in from across the tri-county, but primarily from Dorchester and Berkeley counties. At least 2 to 3 percent of victims it serves come from Charleston County, center officials said.

Center officials said they work annually with 1,300 children who’ve been neglected or physically and sexually abused.

The nonprofit is currently continuing to raise money for a $2.5 million campaign it started in 2014 for funding a building expansion.

The forthcoming $200,000 grant will boost salaries for more than a dozen therapists and forensic interviewers, according to Sarah Fichera, grants manager for Dorchester Children’s Center.

“It’s a great source of funding for us because a lot of private donors are hesitant to give to overhead costs like salaries,” she said.

In the end it’s still the victims who will benefit from the grant.

“Through supporting staff salaries...they can give those services...to children and families,” Fichera said.

The grant is one the center has received in the past, though it’s never guaranteed when officials apply.

“It’s very competitive,” Fichera said.

Also receiving nearly $1 million of AG grant money is Charleston County’s Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center; another $496,436 is going to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office to hire seven full-time victims’ advocates, according to a press release.

The S.C. Crime Victim Services Division will distribute the grants, approved by the Public Safety Coordinating Council. Earlier this year the Crime Victims Services Division, formerly under the Department of Public Safety, was placed under the AG office.

“The message is: We care, we understand and we are there for you,” division Director Burke Fitzpatrick stated in the release.

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