Fighting domestic violence CASA worker provides services

May 15, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

HANCOCK - As the first Hancock outreach worker for CASA - Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused - Marianne Cowan works to empower victims of domestic violence in the Hancock area.

From an office in the Interfaith Service Coalition's building at the corner of High Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Cowan offers crisis counseling, helps abused clients set short-term goals to regain control of their lives, and puts them in touch with other service providers - even providing transportation when needed to Hagerstown-based service agencies, she said.

"We advocate empowerment for the woman and her family," said Cowan, 57, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Her extensive experience with families affected by domestic violence, and her familiarity with the Hancock area, make Cowan a "natural fit" for her new position, CASA Executive Director Vicki Sadehvandi said.


A rural North Carolina native, Cowan for years worked as a domestic violence victims' advocate at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Jacksonville, N.C., she said. Before taking her job with CASA in April 2002, she was a family preservation worker for the Washington County Department of Social Services. Cowan was charged with providing intensive services for "families on the brink of losing their children," she said.

She strived then, as she does now, to give families the tools they need to stay intact, Cowan said.

"Marianne realizes the importance of family preservation, if possible," Sadehvandi said.

CASA's Hancock outreach office opened last June after the agency secured a state grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, she said.

For more than a decade, lack of funding prevented CASA from opening a satellite office in the county's westernmost region - an area in dire need of domestic violence services, Sadehvandi said.

"We had received a lot of calls from people in this area who could not access services in Hagerstown," she said. "Statistics and police reports also showed a need for this service."

Transportation is a major barrier to service for many victims of domestic violence in rural areas - some of whom don't want to seek help outside their own community, Sadehvandi said.

"They feel safe here no matter how bad the problem is," she said.

Now, Cowan can provide help in Hancock and take clients to CASA's main office and to other service agencies in Hagerstown for further assistance with such needs as child therapy, mental health counseling, shelter and legal advocacy, she said.

CASA soon hopes to bring a legal advocate to the Hancock office - which the Interfaith Service Coalition provides free of charge - about once per week, Sadehvandi said.

The agency also is planning domestic violence education programs for the Hancock area to raise awareness about the problem and the availability of local service at the outreach office. CASA's services have thus far been underutilized in Hancock, serving only about 15 clients since June 2002, Sadehvandi said.

"I think the key issue with this office is to build trust within the community," she said. "The people in the community need to understand that everything is totally confidential here."

Cowan recently has seen an increase in the number of referrals from local school personnel, church leaders and other social services providers, she said.

"It is picking up," Sadehvandi said. She praised the support of Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy, who has written letters in support of the agency to help maintain the funding stream for the Hancock outreach office.

CASA hopes next to secure the funding needed to launch a satellite office in southern Washington County, Sadehvandi said.

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