Having the courage to seek a protective order to keep an abuser away can be difficult enough, but it can be even worse when the conversation being held about the issue has to be done in a public place.
Giving people a private and safe space to pursue ways to reclaim their lives is the whole reason behind the “Empowerment Room,” which had its grand opening on Sept. 12 at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center, at 38053 Live Oak Ave., in Dade City.
The opening of the room was celebrated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which welcomed judges, dignitaries and Dana Rutherford, a domestic violence survivor.
Nikki Alvarez-Sowles, clerk and comptroller for Pasco County, briefed the Pasco County Commission about the Empowerment Room and the event during the county board’s Sept. 19 meeting.
Alvarez-Sowles noted that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Then she told the board: “My office serves individuals who come in seeking an injunction against violence.
“We also serve customers coming in with other sensitive items, such as substance abuse, mental health, and exploitation of vulnerable adults.
“I’ve always felt concerned for customers coming in and having to talk about those kinds of items in our lobbies, where others can hear.
“And, in situations with domestic violence, the individual coming into our office — the survivor is looking over their shoulder to see if someone is following them in.
“So, I wanted to have a safe place in the office for them to come, so in Dade City, we had a grand opening of the Empowerment Room, and I want to thank this board because you all supported that room being built.
“It will allow an individual to come into a secured room, where we will have a domestic violence advocate there, with Sunrise of Pasco.”
There’s also a little kids’ zone, where children can play, “while their parent can talk about some serious business and fill out the tremendous paperwork that needs to be done, in order for them to get to a better day.”
Alvarez-Sowles’ team also will be in there to help people who are dealing with issues involving mental health, substance abuse and vulnerable adults.
“We have a lot of security wrapped around that room so that those in the room don’t have to worry,” she said.
The clerk and comptroller also gave a shout-out to county employees George Scheitlin, T.J. Pyche and Bob Amburgey, whom, she said, “did a fantastic job on that room.”
The room is part of a multi-year improvement project funded by Pasco County.
The design service cost roughly $5,000, prints for permitting cost $90 and the construction cost $189,050, according to the clerk’s office.
It appears many individuals could benefit from the Empowerment Room, based on records from the clerk’s civil department.
Those records show that between 2020 and 2023, there were:
Domestic Relations cases
Baker Act: 1,693
Exploitation against vulnerable adults: 34
Published September 27, 2023