Project SAGE (formerly known as Women’s Support Services) is a non-profit domestic violence prevention agency located in Lakeville, CT, and serving northwest Connecticut and neighboring towns in New York and Massachusetts.
“That’s one of the reasons we changed our name. We are inclusive and serve all people,” said Dr. Betsey Mauro, executive director of Project SAGE.
Dr. Mauro defined domestic violence, specifically intimate partner violence, as “any kind of abuse that is committed by one partner towards another.” This can encompass many different kinds of coercion, including physical, emotional, financial, and technological, among others.
“Every relationship is unique and there are a range of behaviors that can be exhibited in those relationships,” she said.
Barriers to leaving and shelter options
Dr. Mauro said that there are many reasons that victims may stay with people who are abusive. One of which could be the financial aspect, in that they may not have a job, or simply lack the money and other resources to leave.
Another potential reason is that the couple shares children in common and believes that it’s better for the children if they stay, or perhaps the abuser has threatened to take custody of the children.
Some obstacles are unique to this area and add an additional burden to victims trying to leave their abusers. “There’s a lack of jobs here, a lack of affordable housing in this area and neighboring areas, there’s no public transportation. We do our best to work with clients to overcome these barriers,” said Dr. Mauro.
In addition to offering emergency shelter, Project SAGE also has a program called ‘rapid re-housing,’ which means, like the name, that they search for safe places for victims to be housed. Dr. Mauro said that while they try to house people in this area, it’s a “challenging objective.” Instead, victims end up being housed all over the state of Connecticut, rather than in this area.
In the past year, Dr. Mauro said that Project SAGE sheltered 41 people for over 1,700 shelter nights. A shelter night is based on the number of people being sheltered. For example, if Project SAGE is sheltering a parent and their child for one night, that counts as two shelter nights since they are sheltering two people.
Additionally, Project SAGE also works with other local agencies to cross-shelter victims, depending on their safety needs.
“We also practice client-centered advocacy,” Dr. Mauro said. “Our clients are the experts of their lives, so we don’t come with expectations. Our first goal is to be as safe as possible, and our second is to cover what they hope for and what they want. Many times, they don’t want or need to leave, so we help with strategies for them to remain as safe as possible.”
Warning signs and changes
“Usually abuse is in dynamics of power and control, so sometimes you can identify behaviors that create patterns, and sometimes not so much,” Dr. Mauro said. “Relationships start in a euphoric way and then patterns change over time, so you can’t really look at someone and say ‘oh, that person must be an abuser.’ You can’t tell if someone in the community is abusive towards their partner at home. Many times they are upstanding and charming, out in the community.”
Dr. Mauro said that she is hesitant to say that people can’t change, or to say that everyone does. However, she noted that there is ample support for those who want to explore programs that encourage abusers to change. Some of these programs include individual counseling and therapy, social support programs, and diversionary programs through court.
Other services offered
“Our prevention education programs are where we’ve seen a lot of growth,” Dr. Mauro said.
Project SAGE offers age-appropriate prevention education for students of all ages, from preschool through high school. They are also partnered with every school in Region One in Connecticut and they are part of the health curriculums within the high school.
“We’re able to build continuity to help our youth as they develop to know how to be less vulnerable and to create healthy relationships,” she said.
Preschool through second grade education focuses on using stories and activities to explore empathy, identity, emotion regulation, communication, conflict management, and bystander intervention.
Elementary through eighth grade education focuses on addressing healthy relationships, boundaries, consent, and online safety.
High school education focuses on deepening the discussions that address healthy relationships, consent, relationship violence, gender identity, and sexual orientation. These programs focus on supporting age-appropriate development as students prepare to transition from high school into the wider world.
Project SAGE has successfully executed over 250 education prevention programs in the last academic year.
Upcoming events for Domestic Violence Awareness Month
On Saturday, October 14 at 10 a.m., Project SAGE will be partnering with the Kent Land Trust for an event titled, “Take Back the Hike!” The hike clocks in at just under three miles roundtrip and will take place at the Skiff Mountain South Trailhead-Harrison Preserve Hike. Participants are encouraged to wear sturdy footwear and layers, and are asked to bring a water bottle and a donation for the Project SAGE shelter. The donation wish list includes items such as shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, tampons, pads, and other personal hygiene care products, as well as gift cards.
Project SAGE also has volunteer certification training, held at Scoville Library in Salisbury, CT, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the following dates: October 12, October 19, October 26, November 2, November 9, and November 16. Participants who cannot attend the training in-person may attend via Zoom.
Project SAGE will also be present at the Kent Farmers Market on the last Friday of October and at the Kent Pumpkin Run on Sunday, October 29.
“I really appreciate the community support and encouragement we get,” Dr. Mauro said. “We have an amazing staff here, but we can’t do this work without the support and encouragement of the community. Every time someone donates, even if it’s just ten dollars, what that person is saying is that the work we’re doing here is meaningful. It’s an encouragement for us to continue to do our work.”
To learn more about Project SAGE and their services and programs, or to inquire about volunteering, visit their website at https://project-sage.org/.
13A Porter St, Lakeville, CT 06039