As a result of Gwen and Earl Berner’s initiative, SAFE was established in June of 1980 as the Women’s Abuse Shelter by a group of local concerned citizens who recognized the need for services to abused women. Gwen Berner was then working at Culpeper DSS and was frustrated that there was no safe place in our community for a woman and her children to find refuge from an abusive relationship. The commitment, hard work, and conviction of many community members, including Susan Vignola, Ketsy Chiles, Andrea Miller, Dana Nolley, Amber Panagos, Stephanie Ridder, Billie Lee Dunford –Jackson, and Stan Dunford-Jackson, created a safe haven for victims of domestic violence.
Charles Browning, a local farmer, offered the use of a tenant house as the shelter, rent-free for the first six months. However, the house had not been used for years and much work was needed to make the house safe and welcoming. Establishing the shelter was a labor of love for many people and those volunteers spent countless hours renovating the house with supplies donated by local businesses. This outpouring of community support provided SAFE with the needed momentum and stability during its early years as a nonprofit agency. Community support remains a vital component to SAFE’s current success.
The Women’s Abuse Shelter was a strictly volunteer operation until 1984. The first, paid staff member was hired in spring of 1984 with the help of United Way Funding.
The name changed in 1986 to Services to Abused Families, Inc. (SAFE) to reflect the many services, in addition to emergency shelter, available to all members of a family troubled by violence.
Since SAFE’s beginning, the administrative offices and emergency shelter have changed locations several times. Over the years, the services offered by SAFE have changed and grown significantly. While still utilizing the support and dedication of volunteers, SAFE’s full-time and part-time staff serves the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock daily.
Today, SAFE provides free and confidential services around the clock to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. We are an accredited agency through the statewide Action Alliance and currently operating in the 5 – county service area. SAFE support is provided regardless of age, race, gender, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, or faith.
SAFE is forever grateful to the original founders for their vision, compassion, and dedication. On behalf of the thousands of women, men and children who have found safety, shelter, support, and advocacy we offer sincere thanks to the volunteers, staff, and community support that continue to allow SAFE to fill a necessary role in the community.