URBANA – Children forced to leave their homes to escape domestic violence face many adjustments, big and small – like finding a safe place to play.
A routine trip to a public playground can be dangerous for children fleeing an abuser.
"A lot of times their moms can't take them to the park because it's just not safe," said Rosalie Rippey, development director for A Woman's Place domestic violence shelter.
A $16,900 donation from Urbana Rotary will create a new play area and vegetable garden for women and children at A Woman's Place, 1304 E. Main St., U.
Tami Tunnell, director of A Woman's Fund, said the area will be an "outdoor haven" for residents.
The shelter has space for 36 people, which usually includes about 10 children at any one time. The average stay for most residents is six weeks, and last year A Woman's Place took in 100 children. It's not fair, Tunnell said, to "keep them cooped up in a shelter."
"We just wanted to be able to create a safe place for them," Rippey said. "Part of it needed to be done, and part of it was a dream."
The shelter has an existing play area, with equipment donated by the Optimist Club. But an addition to the building, completed last year, tore up the back yard, which needs regrading and a new fence, she said.
The project will cover that work and provide enough money to build a concrete basketball court – a longtime goal of the shelter, Rippey said. Though it receives lots of donated toys for younger children, the shelter occasionally houses teen-agers and has little to keep them occupied, she said.
The paved area will also give younger children a place to ride bikes or other vehicles, she said.
"It's not safe for kids to ride their Big Wheels in the parking lot," she said.
The vegetable garden will give residents a place to relax outdoors and will provide fresh produce for the shelter, she said. The project will also pay for new landscaping and a picnic area.
"It's kind of just nothing back there right now," Rippey said. "There's no reason for people to be out there."
About 25 Rotary members showed up Tuesday to present the donation to the shelter. Rotary sponsors an annual raffle to benefit a local organization, and President Anna Merritt said the Woman's Place project was "far and away" the top choice this year. In past years, raffle proceeds went to Rotary's Habitat for Humanity house and the sculpture park next to the Urbana City Building.
The project is appealing because it benefits children, assists a local group with a strong reputation, and fits well with Rotary's mission of promoting peace and understanding, members said.
"I believe that that starts at home," said board member Elizabeth Cook.
"I think it was just a tremendous fit."
Rotary members will also provide some hands-on muscle, removing the old fence and helping with landscape maintenance, officials said. Country Arbors Nursery in Urbana agreed to donate labor and provide materials at low cost, Rippey said.
Work is scheduled to get under way by early July.
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.