Even in this day and age, domestic violence is a topic that many people would rather not discuss.
But a staggering one out of every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and one in 12 will be the victim of stalking, according to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Guy Larsen can emphasize that message, because he knows just how true it is. The vice president of Chicago-based All Seasons Pools and Spas Inc. once helped a personal friend transition out of an abusive environment and into the Crisis Center for South Suburbia. In the process, he became fascinated with the Center’s mission and methods.
“They work with the women to get them able to go back into the community,” Larsen explains. “They have professional counselors at the Center, to help these women realize that they are capable people. They have volunteers who come there and talk to them about job skills; how to fill out a résumé — to try and get them back up to speed, so they can have a chance at going back into the community.”
But the Center offers much more than counselors. Its integrated approach includes a 24-hour crisis hotline, a clean shelter with 35 beds, and long-term transitional housing for women in the process of finding their footing.
It was this tailored, holistic approach that left Larsen feeling deeply committed to the Center’s ideals. He began talking with Edward Vega, the Center’s executive director, and learned that the organization’s programs are supported by a variety of fundraising efforts, coordinated almost entirely by volunteers.
The Center’s mission began because of a woman named Dianne Masters. In 1979, she started a crisis hotline out of her kitchen, eventually persuading the college where she worked to donate an old farmhouse to the effort.
“Out of that building,” Vega says, “she created the first shelter for South Suburbia.”
But unfortunately, this part of the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Masters was murdered by her husband in 1982, her body found nine months later in the trunk of a car.
Larsen and his wife began donating clothes and other items for fundraisers, and volunteering to assist with coordinating some of the events. “The next thing you know,” he says, “I was volunteering to be on the board.”
As he continues to help the Center expand, Larsen has led by example, running marathons as a means of generating support. “I send out letters to friends and family, everybody I know, asking them to make a contribution to support me in the run,” he says. “I generate several thousand dollars every year that way. And this is something that anyone can do, for any charity.”
Though not everyone may be up to running a marathon, Larsen emphasizes that even a sponsored walk can make all the difference for someone in need of aid. “Even though the economy is down, all of these charities still need help; maybe more so because of funding issues,” he says. “There’s so much violence today because of the way the economy is; there’s such a need for groups like this.”