The community minded Judith Harris, board chair of the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies of Charlotte County, would be a welcome member of any area nonprofit. Any organization would appreciate her tireless commitment, but she’s sticking with C.A.R.E.
“I don’t know how people serve on several boards,” she said. “For me, it’s only C.A.R.E. It’s always been C.A.R.E.”
That’s because Harris understands and appreciates the people C.A.R.E. serves.
“I’m probably a little more involved with C.A.R.E. than a lot of people because I’ve been there. My first marriage was very traumatic,” she recalled. “It lasted less than six months. I believe we probably only lived together three of those months.
“So, I understand. When I see a woman come to the shelter bleeding and black and blue, it’s just a horrific thing because you know what she’s gone through.”
Victims now can call C.A.R.E.’s 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 941-627-6000 or 941-475-6465 in the Englewood area. (The C.A.R.E. website, http://carefl.org/, has numerous state and national numbers victims can call for information and support.)
“When things happened to me, there was nobody to talk to,” Harris said. “The police didn’t want to hear about it. I lost friends because they didn’t want to hear about it. It’s a very hard thing to go through.”
Among its myriad of services, C.A.R.E. maintains an emergency shelter to provide a safe haven and support system for domestic and sexual abuse victims. Shelter residents receive counseling, safety planning instruction, court advocacy, and more.
“We provide them with education, which sometimes is as basic as learning to cook a nutritious meal for their kids, learning to write a check,” Harris said. “A lot of them have been so controlled by their spouse that they have never had any money of their own. They’ve never written a check. They’ve never had a bank account.
“They come to us in need of life skills, which we provide for them.”
Many victims get to the shelter just in time.
“A lot of the people we shelter are getting out of a life-threatening situation,” Harris said. “They come to us, many times with just the clothes on their back. They have nothing. So, we provide for them and their children.”
And it isn’t just women. Sometimes a man and his children will seek shelter.
“Abuse knows no boundaries or demographics,” said Harris. “Abuse is all about control. You have control over someone else’s life. That’s what keeps the abuser going.”
Harris, who moved to Charlotte County in 1997, was invited to join the C.A.R.E. Auxiliary by a friend. She did and became involved with what she called “a group of great young women.” The auxiliary, she said, is the fun fundraising arm of C.A.R.E.
“I was with the auxiliary for a very long time, and I’m still a member,” she said.
Harris joined the board of directors about six years ago, and eventually served as secretary before taking over as chair.
“I would do anything for C.A.R.E.,” she said “It’s my passion. I don’t solicit for anything else. The only time that anybody hears from me is when I’m trying to find things for C.A.R.E.”
These days, Harris is seeking auction items and donations for the 31st annual C.A.R.E. Ball on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda. To order tickets or donate items, call 941-639-5499 or visit www.carefl.org.
Talking about the C.A.R.E. Ball got Harris thinking about community leader Paula Hess, a founding C.A.R.E. board member who served as chair for three terms and retained a permanent directorship as Chairman Emeritus until her death in April of 2018.
“I’m so grateful we were really able to honor her last year at our 30th C.A.R.E. Ball, because of all the founders, she was the one who was involved with us from day one and never, ever quit,” Harris said.
“She was the most wonderful woman,” she added. “She was my mentor. She led this organization to where we are now.”
C.A.R.E. instituted the Paula Hess Humanitarian Scholarship last year in Hess’s honor. The first recipient is a victim of abuse who went through the C.A.R.E. programs. She is currently finishing her final semester of college and wants to give back to the community after she graduates.
“She represents our whole goal,” Harris said. “We see these people who’ve gone through unspeakable things and we give them a leg up, a step forward, and a way to create a good life for themselves.
“We want to make every victim a survivor. That’s the goal.”
Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Call Dan Mearns at 941-893-9692 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.