Spruce Run has become a vital institution in the Bangor community and is serving as a model nationwide. As the third oldest domestic violence center in the United States, Spruce Run practices what it preaches.
Its motto, “Works for Peace at Home” is validated by the services it offers- community outreach, advocacy, a 24-hour hotline, education programs, shelter, childcare, support groups and training.
These services are free, anonymous and available to anyone. Spruce Run is a “private, non-profit organization dedicated to serving people affected by domestic abuse and to working to end personal, institutional and cultural violence,” according to its Web site.
Francine Stark has been Spruce Run’s training coordinator for 16 years. She trains both volunteers and the community. A Bates College graduate and Peace Corps veteran, Stark started volunteering at a center for battered women in Vermont after moving there in 1984. Eventually she returned to Maine and started at Spruce Run in 1993. She recounted how it was not until the 1980s that there was truly any acknowledgement of domestic abuse. Before then, there was no institutional support of any kind available to victims.
“It was amazing getting a name for what was going on,” she said.
Stark said, “Our job is to help everyone along the continuum of abuse.”
Spruce Run’s services are available to both women and men.
Stark said abuse begins when the abuser seeks power and control.
“The first thing to watch out for is how much is this relationship changing your life? Also, how much does the relationship impact your daily decisions? What you think, feel or do? All of the sudden, you’re no longer spending time with friends,” she said. “That’s the abuser’s goal, for you to only focus on them.
“Each little act [of abuse] may seem innocuous, but when put together, they form a web in which you are trapped,” she said.
Katie McCarthy, Spruce Run’s community advocate and a University of Maine alumna, described how she works with a wide range of people and institutions. One of McCarthy’s primary responsibilities is case management in housing. Obtaining housing for those in need is not always easy – especially in dismal economic times.
“It’s harder on everyone we’re working with. It redefines the big picture and affects women’s lives and communities,” McCarthy said.
Spruce Run assists victims with transitional housing and has several housing sites statewide. Transitional housing provides inhabitants with a significant support network, emphasizing goal achievement. Regardless of the goal – higher education, career advancement, sobriety or financial independence – residents are given a chance to get themselves and their families back on their feet.
Sally*, who uses Spruce Run’s services, is human evidence of the tenacity and hope the center fosters. A mother of three, she has lived in 11 states and came to Spruce Run last August after her mother traveled cross country in order to retrieve her and her children from her abusive husband. Sally now volunteers at Spruce Run and hopes to go back to school in order to obtain a social work degree.
Sitting at a table heaped with Valentine-themed party favors and chocolates, Sally apologized and explained she was hosting a party the next day. She told the story of leaving her husband – she took a few toys, clothes, a laptop and a bunk bed.
“I went from being financially comfortable, having a 3,000 square-foot house on a river, nice cars and a garage to trying to get by on $600 a month,” she said.
Her disabled mother is homeless. Sally now juggles the needs and well-being of five people, including herself.
She expressed frustration with the stereotypes often associated with domestic abuse.
“It’s just as scary to leave as it is to stay. People can’t judge,” Sally said.
She calmly described how her husband would force her and her daughter to wear make up and lipstick at all times.
Now, when she leaves the house with makeup on, her 10-year-old son will tell her, “It’s OK, Mum. You don’t have to wear makeup.”
Sally sees her son compensating for his father.
“It’s amazing what [the kids] pick up on,” she said.
“I’m so thankful for everything they’ve [Spruce Run] done – they’ve done so much,” she said.
She praised the children’s services the center provides as well.
“My kids absolutely love it.”
She also enjoys the benefits of a twice-a-week playgroup program and a homework support group.
“It’s the little things people don’t think about that Spruce Run thinks of that makes the difference.”
Stark said Spruce Run and the University of Maine share a “symbiotic relationship.”
UMaine and Spruce Run collaborate on programs such as Rape Response, Safe Campus Project and events such as the Vagina Monologues.
Carey Nason, the Coordinator of the Safe Campus Project, worked directly with Spruce Run to create the group. The project offers counseling and assistance with abuse. It is funded by a grant from the Department of Justice. It was in conjunction with the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
“The primary focus is prevention and promoting healthy relationships and safety in relationships,” Nason said.
Safe Campus Project’s goals include working with people who have questions or concerns about their safety and relationships, providing workshops, fostering community response to addressing interpersonal violence and acting as an advocate for Rape Response Services, according to its Web site.
When describing her job, Nason admires how “a lot of good things come out of really horrible things. My job is awesome. I’m able to see people move through some pretty amazing circumstances.”
Spruce Run has become a cornerstone in the community’s education, betterment, involvement and humanity.
Stark looks toward the future of Spruce Run and the fight against domestic abuse.
“We shouldn’t be discouraged; we should be inspired that we have come so far,” she said.
*Sally’s name has been replaced with an alias to protect her identity.