homepage logo

Zonta Foundation of SWFL awards $5,000 grant to Abuse Counseling Treatment, Inc.

By Staff | Jun 16, 2011

Graffiti artist Indigo Fordham-Theiss and Zontians Emilie Alfino and Dalia Jakubauskas at ACT's Aug. 6 graffiti art event in North Fort Myers.

The Zonta Foundation of Southwest Florida has awarded a $5,000 grant to Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc. (ACT) to help pay for a bilingual counselor who serves domestic abuse victims from Lee, Hendry and Charlotte counties. The Zonta Foundation of SWFL is the non-profit arm of The Zonta Club of Sanibel/Captiva.

The money has helped ACT to turn the once part-time position into a full-time endeavor that will reach more than 100 underserved clients in 2011, according to Jennifer Benton, Chief Executive Officer for ACT. About 20 percent of more than 9,500 clients served last year by ACT are Hispanic.

“The grant is especially crucial in this current economic climate when public funding for domestic abuse and violence prevention services is shrinking and the need growing, particularly in the Hispanic community,” said Benton.

To illustrate the dire need, she noted that from 2005 to 2008, ACT saw a 136 percent increase in clients. That need continues unabated.

“We have seen more severe cases walk through the doors,” she said. As joblessness runs rampant and financial concerns pervade many of our county’s households, the likelihood and incidence of both nonviolent and violent crime increases, including domestic and sexual violence offenses.

Zontians Nola Theiss and Dalia Jakubauskas at ACT's Aug. 6 graffiti art event in North Fort Myers.

Even as incidences of most other types of crimes dropped last year, domestic violence saw an increase of 3 percent in 2010. About 20 percent of all murders committed in Florida last year were domestic violence related, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

At the same time, public and private funding for domestic violence services has decreased forcing ACT to cut back staff and streamline its operations. ACT has managed this feat by not replacing retiring staff and having existing staff sometimes double up on duties.

And, as public funding continues to shrink, ACT has worked hard at seeking out private sources like the grant from Zonta. Fundraisers like Arts for ACT “Graffiti Night” and Fine Art Auction, to be held on Saturday, Aug. 6, are also major sources of funding for the agency. Local and nationally known artists are donating their work to be auctioned off at the August event to be held at Haborside Event Center in Downtown Fort Myers.

Community volunteers, like those that showed up at The Shell Factory in North Fort Myers on Saturday, June 11, to paint canvasses to be hung at the Aug. 6 auction, also play a key role in keeping ACT’s doors open. The volunteers, who tried their hand at graffiti art on Saturday, enjoyed the lighter side of helping domestic abuse victims by sharing camaraderie and fun.

But the more serious business of day-to-day operations at ACT is handled by 50 paid staff and an equal number of volunteers. Zontians from the Sanibel/Captiva club will be among the many volunteers who will give their time this year doing tasks ranging from staffing ACT’s thrift shop, Second Act in Fort Myers, to community relations, to answering phones at the organization’s 24-hour hotline.

ACT struggles to provide a myriad of other services on little more than a three million dollar annual budget. These include its shelter in Ft. Myers, a rape crisis center, an advocacy unit, victims’ counseling services, and a batterer’s intervtion program.

“Zonta’s grant, along with other community funding sources, will help ACT ensure that, for now, no direct services to clients will be cut,” Benton said. “We have had to make a lot of cuts to keep this agency afloat. We don’t ever want to turn away clients, and so far, we have not had to. The money helps.

The Zonta Club of Sanibel/Captiva is a service organization of professional women working together to provide hands-on assistance, advocacy and funds to strengthen women’s lives on the islands, in Lee County and around the world through Zonta International.

For additional information, visit www.zontasancap.com.