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Shelter House gala to raise money to meet increasing need

WILLMAR -- In recent months, more and more families have sought assistance from Shelter House Inc. in Willmar.

"Our caseload has gone way up, and funding is down," said director Connie Schmoll.

It's not unusual to have the shelter in Willmar full of women and children who have left abusive situations and to have other families in emergency housing in area hotels. Shelter House serves 18 counties in southwestern Minnesota.

The growing need highlights the importance of the annual masquerade gala "Hope for Tomorrow" on April 17 at the Holiday Inn in Willmar.

Proceeds from the gala will be used to benefit Shelter House programs. In particular, the funds will help support the shelter's children's programs.

Helping children deal with the trauma in their family lives is an important part of the Shelter House's mission, she said.

Schmoll said there is no state mandate for children's programming, but the shelter offers several different programs.

"Working with the next generation is critical," she said. "It takes some funding to get these programs in a place where they make a difference."

The keynote speaker will be Chuck Derry, co-founder of the Minnesota Men's Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In a telephone interview this week, Derry said the level of domestic violence in this society indicates that there is widespread acceptance in the culture.

"Women have been working on this effort for more than 30 years ... and it's time for men to step up and join them," Derry said.

His organization is trying to change the environment that accepts violence against women as a norm.

"It is a tall order," Derry said. "When you begin, you must change social norms; it always looks impossible."

Major changes always look impossible at first, he said. Years ago, no one thought about buckling seat belts, banning smoking in public places or putting kids in car seats, he said, but all of those things have changed over the years.

Domestic violence is more ingrained in the culture, but "it's real doable," Derry said.

"Men who batter totally rely on the other men who aren't being violent to remain silent," Derry said.

At the gala, he said, he will challenge the men there to step forward and end that silence.

"I'm going to say to the men, 'way to go; you're here,' and I'll ask them to work together to stop it before it starts," he said. "If all the good men got up off the couch, domestic and sexual violence would end."

Brianna Kill, who does community education for Shelter House, said she has taken up the cause of getting men more involved in violence prevention.

In her programs, she said, she tries to help people understand how hard it can be for an abused woman to leave a relationship. She talks about all the ways that abusers isolate their victims and limit their access to family, friends and money.

When she speaks to church groups, she explains how abusers misuse scripture to justify their actions.

From many men, she sees shock. "A lot of them like to separate themselves from it," she said. "I tell them, the abusers (and victims) are people they know. ... They have to realize this is happening. Otherwise, why would there be a shelter here."

If men get involved in working with women to prevent violence, "I know we could really make some great strides," she said.