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Mon, Oct. 14

Keeping the Faith (House) in PV<BR>Timely emancipation kept local shelter separate

PRESCOTT VALLEY – Robin Burke was busy on the phone Monday morning, answering questions about the closure of Faith House in Northern Arizona.

A Sunday story in the Arizona Republic detailed the collapse of Faith House in Glendale and included a mention of the closure of the women's shelter organization's Prescott location.

"Everybody's therapists who sent these ladies here has already called," Burke said. "And the women who are staying here all read it. They all thought it meant we were going to be closed today."

But despite the Glendale closure, Faith House of Northern Arizona, long the area's standard for domestic violence shelters, re-mains open, thanks to a timely cutting of financial apron strings late in 1999 and a subsequent move from Prescott to Prescott Valley.

Burke, daughter of Faith House founder Betty Ryan Della Corte, first heard rumblings over financial troubles that resulted from the building of a grandiose, $2.8 million shelter in Glendale, about a year ago.

She said she at first assumed it was just another in a long line of challenges Della Corte had faced and overcome. She built the Faith House empire from nothing more than a vision of helping battered women.

Over the years, Della Corte always had been able to grasp all she reached for, often over the objections of advisory boards who sought to rein her in.

"She's had boards who have gotten scared before," Burke said. "This time she got a board that panicked."

With construction costs threatening its viability, the board shut down the Glendale shelter and dismissed Della Corte.

"They had to have a scapegoat," Burke said, "and she's the most visible person."

The Prescott location is closed, Burke confirmed, and has been since January of this year when Faith House's parent corporation, Villa de Fidelis, told her she had to move out so they could sell the property as part of a last-ditch effort to keep the Glendale shelter alive.

After checking her options, Burke decided to go it alone. Through negotiations, she took over the name of one of Faith House's three corporations – the Valley Youth Organization – and established it as the umbrella organization that would run Faith House and the Stepping Stones bookstore.

She obtained a lease on an apartment building in a Prescott Valley residential neighborhood and moved her eight-member staff and their clients.

Far from being closed, Faith House in Prescott Valley is expanding to add transitional apartments to the mix of services. Women recovering from domestic abuse will be able to stay for as long as two years once the remodeling is complete.

Not everyone thought Burke's decision to split off from the parent group was a good one. Faith House had money, Faith House had vision, Faith House had a reputation as an innovative leader in the field.

"A lot of us thought it was a risky move," said Dale Wiebush, coordinator of the Yavapai County Domestic Violence Task Force. "In retrospect, it was the wisest move of all."

Other shelters serve the area, Wiebush said, but the closing of Faith House would have left a gaping hole.

"It would have been a crippling blow," he said. "The Sanctuary in Verde Valley is the closest available shelter, and it's full so often, I don't think it would have been able to handle the overflow."

While fending off queries about her shelter's continued existence, Burke found time to reflect on her mother's plight, and time to wonder about the board's decision to close the shelter.

With a half-million dollars in annual service contracts in force, Burke said, they should have been able to keep the doors open.

"I don't know why they had to close the place and make the ladies leave," she said. "It's just so sad. She (Della Corte) put her heart and soul into it, and for 25 years she has met every challenge and been successful. But she's a visionary, and sometimes it's very hard to work for a visionary. People get scared."

People being scared is what Faith House is about and, with

the turmoil raging around her, Burke continued to supply shelter, sustenance and counseling to

the women who had sought her out.

Melissa (not her real name) and her two children came to Faith House Monday morning after yet another incident of domestic violence drove her from the home she shared with her infant's father.

She had heard the rumors of closure.

Sitting on the steps of the nondescript two-story apartment building that offers hope for her and others to escape the cycle of abuse, Melissa smiled.

"It's really a relief to be here," she said. "I'm walking around still in disbelief. I can't believe there's so many caring people here."

Faith House of Northern Arizona survives by the grace of grants and a community willing to support it. Burke, who has run the shelter for 20 years, hopes that her decision to keep the Faith House name will not hamper her efforts at fund-raising.

"Now that this has come out," she said, "I kind of wish I would have picked a different name."

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