At the edge of downtown Bowling Green is a one-story building that's been repurposed as a safe haven for survivors of abuse and the base for professionals to help the growing number of such victims.
Since spring 2017, the former service and social club has become the brick-and-mortar headquarters of The Cocoon, making the 14-year-old nonprofit more visible in the community. Now, The Cocoon hopes the community can step forward to help it help others. “We are so much more than a shelter,” says Kathy Mull, the nonprofit's executive director. “We provide a wide variety of services at zero cost. And we're trying to get people engaged to support our mission.”
mission is to help
victims of domestic
and sexual violence or sexual harassment, adult survivors of
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The agency does this by providing access to resources. “We have a 24-hour crisis line that a victim can call to get connected to one of our advocates,” Mull says. The advocate lists options for ways to keep the victim and their children safe. “We also do legal advocacy,” she says. “We help them navigate the criminal, divorce, and custody courts, and help them file civil protection orders. We also help with financial empowerment. We help individuals to have financial stability through budgeting, credit repair, job searching, education—going back for a GED, vocational training, or college.” She adds that The Cocoon offers support groups to help victims connect to resources for healing.
Aside from by phone, The Cocoon receives survivors through hospitals. If someone checks in to a hospital and says they've been sexually or domestically assaulted, Mull says, The Cocoon is alerted and sends an advocate.
The Cocoon responds to about 6,000 calls annually through the crisis line (419-373-1730, option 2). The majority of those calls are from people in Wood County, but the agency accepts victims from neighboring areas that might not have a similar service. “We also note the nature of the violence that forces a victim to flee,” Mull says. “Sometimes we're a better option for those from farther away.”
That's where the repurposed building comes in, as an emergency shelter. “When we opened 14 years ago, we originally were a shelter. In fact, 'shelter' was part of our name. Five years ago, we dropped 'shelter' from our name because we do so much more than house people,” she says. According to Mull, 90 percent of the victims The Cocoon helps are through community-based services, while 10 percent are helped by staying at the shelter.
The previous shelter had 12 beds; the new site has 24. Despite the extra accommodations, “we fill them pretty quickly. We're almost always full. Unfortunately,” Mull says, “the need is definitely very great in our community.”
The agency serves about 600 survivors in a typical year, but 2019 hasn't been typical. “We're on track to serve much more. As of October 31, we served 622, so by the end of the year we could serve 750 or so,” Mull says.
Mull attributes the rise to an increased awareness of The Cocoon and the national movements that have reduced the stigma of reporting abuse. Survivors feel more comfortable speaking up for help, she reasons.
While she can surmise reasons for the rise in people seeking help, Mull has no idea why there's an increase in another aspect. “Locally, the level of violence reported by the people we serve is increasing,” she says. “The cases coming to us through the courts also note an increase in violence. We don't have a factor to point to for the cause. It's a trend in the past six months.”
The Cocoon can house a victim for 30 to 90 days. The average stay is 57 days. This gives the victim time to reach stability and move into something more permanent, Mull says.
There are two goals for The Cocoon's future. One is renovating the repurposed building to provide private spaces for survivors to meet with advocates. Currently, such meetings occur over the phone or in safe public spaces like a fast-food restaurant or library.
The other goal is to establish prevention programs. “It's not that intervention isn't critical,” Mull says, “but how can we prevent domestic violence in the first place?” The Cocoon is making progress along this line by forming a Men's Action Now group and partnerships with Bowling Green State University and Owens Community College. “Our staff has received training on how to have those conversations in the community to challenge the social norms.”
The Cocoon conducts two fundraisers a year and welcomes individual donations any time. It also needs grocery and gas gift cards of $20 or less for survivors.
“Our number one goal is to let people know we're here and our advocates can help, at zero cost,” Mull says. “Anybody who can be an ambassador to us is a help, by sharing our message and supporting us in our mission.”
Visit the agency's rebuilt website, TheCocoon.org, for more details.
Dennis Bova is a former newspaper reporter, columnist, and copy editor.