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Coming together for family justice

A county-owned building, standing empty for some time, is the future site of the Claiborne County Family Justice Center. Located on Church Street behind the courthouse, the Center will function as a one-stop shop for those caught in the web of domestic abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking or elder abuse.

The Center is a collaborative effort among those agencies that typically respond to abuse and assault cases.

“Victims will be able to come and receive all the services they will need in one building,” said site coordinator Bobbie Womack, during a telephone interview. “We will have an assistant district attorney, an investigator from the Sheriff’s Office and a victim advocate all on site. We’ll have a navigator that will walk the victims through the process from day one until it’s over. We will also have someone on standby from the new shelter and legal aid during certain days of the week.”

Womack says the Center will be able to provide Orders of Protection as well.

“Rather than them having to go to a clerk’s office, they will come in to the Family Justice Center and fill out the paperwork, which we will help them do.

“The way it’s working now, the clerk’s office doesn’t have the time to help them fill it out. We will then be the middle man in getting that to the judge so that they don’t have to worry about being in court and possibly running into the perpetrator,” said Womack.

She says she envisions a calming environment for the victims.

“A unique thing about the Family Justice Center is, instead of the victims having to go to the Sheriff’s Office or police department, officers will come there. We will have a den where the victim can sit and all the services will come to them. The den will be a comfortable, low-lit setting where they’ll be able to talk in privacy within a family-friendly environment,” said Womack.

The structure that will house the Family Justice Center was in need of general repairs and deep cleaning. Jeremy Myers, who is the Tazewell police chief and a member of the Center’s board of directors, approached Womack with the offer to pitch in with the help of Shiloh Church members who were willing to use their Serve Day in that capacity.

“As a church and law enforcement member in this community, I am thrilled to see us moving toward ensuring the domestic violence victims within our community receive the services they need. We are truly the hands and feet of Jesus when we get out in His name and make a positive impact in our community. We’re just thankful for the opportunity to serve our community,” said Myers.

Attorney general Jared Effler said of the workday that he was greatly appreciative to all who participated.

“The work that was completed brings our dream of an FJC one step closer to fruition, which will bring better services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Effler.

Others who lent their time, equipment and expertise to the work day are Ramsey Excavating, county mayor Joe Brooks, staff of the Office of Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District and Rent-A-Dumpster, which was provided by Jeff and Donna Neely.

Also on hand to work were the board of directors of the Family Justice Center, members of Shiloh Church and individuals from across the county.

Womack says her hope is to provide services to the victims that might not have had access since losing CEASE, Inc. Recently, CHET (Community Health of East Tennessee) has stepped up to provide a shelter and advocacy services to Claiborne County.

“Our goal is to provide a safe environment where they can come and receive the services they need and have the support behind them to continue through the process and succeed. They can then receive the healing and justice they deserve,” said Womack.

The Family Justice Center is currently funded by federal grants. An initial $240,000 JAG (Justice Assistance Grant) got the ball rolling by providing funding for the three-year project to bring the Center to the county.

Currently, there are nine Family Justice Centers across the state, with four earmarked to open in the spring. Womack says she is looking towards a spring opening for the Claiborne County Center.

Monetary donations will be gratefully accepted. Once the Center is up and running, needed hygiene and other necessary items may be donated.

For more information, contact Womack at: sitecoordinatorfjc@claibornecountytn.gov or call: 865-585-1679.