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Organizations join to create more space for victims of domestic violence


By Tracey Bruce
For the Leader

Five years after Mary Daniels’ death at the hands of her estranged husband, Mary’s House of Hope – the organization family members created after the tragedy – and Comtrea are putting up $300,000 to begin an expansion of A Safe Place, Comtrea’s domestic violence shelter.

Daniels’ loved ones were galvanized to action after her Aug. 3, 2010, murder and started raising funds for a new shelter in January 2011. But now that the organization has reached its $100,000 fundraising goal, partnering with Comtrea to build additional housing at the existing shelter seemed like a better plan, leaders said.

Comtrea’s Board of Directors decided Feb. 8 to pledge $200,000 to begin the project, which is expected to cost about $1.3 million.

Early planning calls for breaking ground this summer on four to six housing units to provide lodging for individuals or families who need a place to stay while trying to get on their feet. Funding will determine how long it will take to complete the project.

“Everyone on the board (of Mary’s House of Hope) is very excited,” said Sylvia Daniels, Mary’s mother and vice president of Mary’s House of Hope. “We’re really appreciative of Comtrea’s board. Without their help and support we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Although the organization had originally planned to fund a separate shelter, members decided the most efficient way to bring help for victims of domestic abuse was to work with Comtrea to expand A Safe Place, said Kristy Neuman, president of Mary’s House of Hope.

“It was the only answer for us to get it built this quickly,” she said.

Liezye Feinburgh, left, of Jefferson County uses sign language to tell the crowd about abuse she suffered and help she received from “A Safe Place.” She spoke during a Feb. 6 Mardi Gras-themed fundraiser.

A Safe Place

A Safe Place, founded in 1986, is the county’s only emergency shelter for domestic violence. In 2015, the 18-bed facility provided safe shelter to 93 adults and 154 children, Comtrea President and CEO Susan Curfman said.

The shelter, which is located on 5 acres in an undisclosed location, occupies about 1.5 acres of the property. With the remaining 3.5 acres there is room to construct transitional housing to help victims of abuse put their lives together so they can live independently, she said. The housing units will give people the time they need to get the education, counseling and jobs necessary to become independent, Curfman said.

“The worst thing that could happen is that we get them safe but they can’t sustain themselves and they end up back in the abusive situation,” she said.

Unfortunately, A Safe Place did not meet the needs of more than 600 women and children last year because of the lack of shelter space, Curfman said.

When there are no beds available,

A Safe Place provides hotel vouchers or refers those in crisis to other shelters, Comtrea assistant CEO Tracy Wiecking said.

The new project should help to alleviate that problem. Once families can be moved into transitional housing and begin making steps toward independence, more space will be available in the shelter for those fleeing violence, Curfman said.

“We have a responsibility to provide safe housing,” she said.

Plans for the project

The transitional housing project will be built in two phases. Phase 1 will be to bring water and sewer onto the property and complete the design work for the project. Phase 2 will be to construct the homes, Curfman said.

Plans are to have architectural plans ready in March and begin construction for public water and sewer hook-up in May. Construction on the houses would begin 30-90 days after completing the sewer and water portion of the project, Curfman said.

She said she would love to complete the project in 2016, but the finish line will be determined by funding.

Homes could be similar to condominiums or duplexes, Wiecking said.

Bringing sewer and water onto the property is estimated to cost about $250,000, Wiecking said.

“The septic system and well on the property are at capacity, but there are sewer and water nearby,” he said.

Comtrea is applying for a grant for $250,000 from the Jefferson Memorial Community Foundation to help with the costs of Phase 1, Curfman said.

“When the foundation did a needs assessment for Jefferson County in 2015, the top three priorities they listed were dental services, transportation, and homelessness and housing for victims of domestic violence,” she said.

Curfman said she believes the project is well-suited for funding from the Jefferson Memorial Community Foundation.

If Comtrea does not get the grant for the project, however, she said the agency will move forward with the project anyway.

“With or without the grant, this is part

of our mission,” Curfman said.

She also would like to put together a coalition of 10 corporate or individual sponsors that would each donate $50,000 to the project.

On Feb. 6, Comtrea held its annual Mardi Gras Ball to benefit A Safe Place and raised $32,000.

“We have people who have shown an interest,” Curfman said. “We invite people to join us and be a part of this.”

Gratitude and peace

Sylvia Daniels said she’s grateful to all those who worked to raise the funds for the project, and she sees God’s hand in it.

“It’s funny how God brings people together,” she said. “Ken Curfman, who is Sue Curfman’s husband, called us last year about holding an event, “Phil’s Diner,” at St. John (Catholic Church) to benefit Mary’s House of Hope. Now his wife is CEO of Comtrea. She came on board and started to make things happen.”

Mary Daniels, 30, a Hillsboro resident

and the mother of two children, was stabbed to death by her estranged husband, Christopher P. Colletta, on Aug. 3, 2010, in the parking garage of St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur, where she worked. Mary had obtained a restraining order against her husband and was seeking a divorce when she was murdered.

Colletta is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in 2011.

Sylvia Daniels said the knowledge that others will be helped brings her peace.

“She’s not just gone. She’s not just dead. We’ve done something positive with our tragedy and we are praying that no one else has to go through this,” Daniels said. “I know she’s looking down

and saying, ‘You go, guys.’”

She said Mary’s House of Hope will continue holding fundraising events and work to build awareness of domestic violence.

“We plan to keep on helping,” Daniels said. “We’d like to speak in the schools on violence and give students the information they will need, if they

ever need help.”

“Mary’s House of Hope has been a wonderful partner in this,” Curfman said.

Domestic violence in Jefferson County is a problem of crisis proportions that needs more partners, she said.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office received 1,058 reports of domestic violence in 2015, a 6.7 percent increase from 2014, Curfman said.

Comtrea is setting up a foundation for A Safe Place. Those who would like to donate now to the project, however, can make a donation to Comtrea and designate it for A Safe Place. Donations should be mailed to Comtrea, care of Wendy Harris, account manager, 227 E. Main St., Festus, 63028.

Comtrea is a countywide agency that provides mental health and medical services. It is funded with some tax money, donations, grants and client fees.

“She’s not just gone. She’s not just dead. We’ve done something positive with our tragedy and we are praying that no one else has to go through this. I know she’s looking down and saying, ‘You go, guys.’”

Sylvia Daniels
Mary Daniels’ mother


Mary Daniels was killed Aug. 3, 2010.

Story Courtesy of Leader Publications

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