Merger of women’s agencies targets service

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Since it was formed in 1978, The Women’s Center in Chapel Hill has worked to equip women and girls to be more self-sufficient.

And since it began operating in 2000, the Family Violence Prevention Center, also in Chapel Hill, has worked to prevent domestic abuse.

Now, after working together for over 10 years, and after eight months of discussions that included meetings nearly every week of members of their respective staffs and boards, the two agencies are preparing to merge, probably in July, forming the new Compass Center for Women and Families.

While it may result in some savings in administrative costs, the merger is designed to improve and expand services to current and prospective clients of the two agencies, their executive directors say.

“There is not duplication in services,” says Hudson Fuller, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Center and incoming chief operating officer of the new Compass Center. “We have a shared goal of providing more comprehensive services to all members of the community in terms of providing safety and self-sufficiency to women and men so they have the ability to take care of themselves and their families.”

Ann Gerhardt, executive director of The Women’s Center and incoming executive director of the Compass Center, says another key goal of the merger is to be “better stewards of resources in our community.”

Formed in 1978, The Women’s Center operates with an annual budget of $410,000 and a staff of five people and serves nearly 3,000 clients a year.

The Family Violence Prevention Center, formed in 2000, operates with an annual budget of $275,000 and a staff of five people and serves about 750 clients a year.

One likely result of the merger will be longer-term services for victims of domestic violence that will help them “break the cycle of violence,” Fuller says.

Because of its limited resources, she says, the Family Violence Prevention Center has found it tough to help victims free themselves from dependence on their abusive partners.

Gerhardt says the merged organization should be able to increase its focus on providing services like financial literacy, career exploration and workforce development to victims of domestic violence.

“A woman really can’t leave a situation until she’s ready to be self-sufficient,” she says.

Data suggest a key factor in domestic violence or abuse is control of the household’s finances, she says, and many women and men in abusive relationships “may not have control of their finances or know very much about how to manage them.”

The merger is the result of a lot of time and effort that “added a tremendous amount of work to already overworked individuals,” Gerhardt says.

Most Monday evenings from July through February, staff and board members from both agencies met for 90 minutes to two hours to address issues such as the agencies’ missions, corporate structures, finances, client bases, programs, staffing and staff culture, facilities, space needs, fundraising, and donors, as well as how to handle communications and marketing about the merger.

While decisions have not been made on the new agency’s location, Fuller says, the merger is designed to “build our capacity to not just provide our current clients with more comprehensive services, but also to be able to serve more clients in the community overall.”

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