Joyce Mahr was working as a banker when she first took a volunteer position on the Betty Griffin Center board. She was instantly intrigued by the dynamics of domestic violence, and over time came to understand how it truly affects people of all backgrounds. It has now been almost 25 years since she decided to leave her corporate job and move into a full-time role with the organization. Since that time, the Betty Griffin Center has grown tremendously, now offering a multitude of free services for women, men, and children geared towards sexual abuse and domestic violence treatment, prevention, and recovery.
Each year the Betty Griffin Center has close to 450 people come through their shelter, with 18 to 20 families in the transitional housing. In addition to those already being treated, on average, 600 new men, women, and children come into the outreach center for counseling services.
Though she now serves as Chief Executive Officer for the Betty Griffin Center, Joyce doesn’t claim full credit for where the Betty Griffin Center is today. Instead, she praises the hard work and dedication of her staff and the board of directors. “Building a new shelter and creating transitional housing is some of the monumental things that have been done,” she says. “It’s truly a team effort. Anything we do here takes a team.” She notes that the organization’s biggest accomplishment has been its collaboration with other community partners, which is an essential part for not only treating the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault but working on prevention.
Over the years, the Betty Griffin Center has placed advocates in a variety of locations, such as the clerk of court and the sheriff’s office, to assist survivors. At Flagler Hospital they also have a rape care unit, which has become a model for other cities in the surrounding area. This dual care rape center opened in 2006 to ensure that anyone who had been raped could get a forensic exam by a certified sexual assault nurse examiner and have an advocate with them. “That was really monumental,” says Joyce, “because up until then, there were no real services for rape survivors.”
Another blossoming project involves a partnership with Flagler College called the Green Dot program in which Betty Griffin Center representatives go onto the campus and speak about the dynamics of various precursors to sexual assault and domestic violence. Sometimes this training can help give a voice to survivors as they come forward for counseling or tell their story to others.
“What we’re hoping to do in the future is to bring this to the entire community, so the entire community will be comfortable talking about domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault,” says Joyce. “Because until the community is comfortable and the stigma and the embarrassment for the survivors that go through it are gone, we as advocates have to be their voice.”
The St. Johns County community is very important to Joyce as both she and her husband grew up in the area. They have two boys and three grandchildren who attend school in the area, so it’s vital to her that the community is safe for them. She and her team at the Betty Griffin Center work hard to extend that feeling of safety to everyone in need.