Shelter Pioneer Seeking a New Frontier

By Nord, Thomas | The Florida Times Union, June 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Shelter Pioneer Seeking a New Frontier


Nord, Thomas, The Florida Times Union


The way she sees it, Rita DeYoung began waking up about 1976.

She had come to Florida three years before, a housewife from

Lawrence, Kan., who followed her husband as he sought out the

opportunities for their young family.

That was the way things were done then, of course, and DeYoung

doesn't speak bitterly about the way she ended up here, or the

divorce that soon followed.

"There was something exciting about leaving your parents in

Lawrence and moving across the country to a new place," said

DeYoung. "There was an element of adventure."

Nothing to compare with the adventure ahead, though.

After her divorce, DeYoung found friendship and support in the

city's nascent women's movement. They call it networking today,

back then it was simply a bunch of women with the somewhat

radical notion that they weren't property, that they were equal

partners, that they didn't deserve to be beaten and abused.

"It was housewives, secretaries, professors, attorneys,"

recalled DeYoung as she sat in her office at Hubbard House, the

domestic violence center she helped start and which she has run

for almost 10 years. "We were from all walks of life."

Over time, DeYoung went from being part of the movement to, in

some minds, embodying it. Ask someone in Jacksonville about

battered women, and most -- usually without hesitation -- will

blurt out the name "Rita DeYoung."

Those folks are feeling a bit lost these days, still surprised

at DeYoung's decision to leave Hubbard House, and Jacksonville,.

But starting anew is nothing new for DeYoung.

"This whole decision, this whole move, feels right," DeYoung

said. "I've learned over the years to trust my instincts."

Those instincts are telling 51year-old DeYoung it's time to

leave Hubbard House and head to Dallas. There, she will look for

a new job and spend time with her family, which is spread out in

Kansas, Texas and New Mexico.

Tomorrow is her last day at Hubbard House. She has sold her

home and she will leave for Dallas on Tuesday.

She'll be missed. But will she miss Jacksonville?

"It's sad to be leaving Jacksonville just as it's becoming the

city I've always wanted it to be," she said after pondering the

question for a moment.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

It was a quaint idea then, opening a shelter for women to escape

-- in some instances, hide from -- their abusers. Shirley Webb,

a pioneer like DeYoung, said it began when she and others began

noticing the problem in calls to the city's new rape crisis hot

line.

Women were calling, but not always about sexual assault.

"We were getting calls . . . from women who were being abused

and we had no place to send them," said Webb, who runs the

Jacksonville Women's Center, a clearinghouse for women seeking

aid, support and information on several issues.

No one will ever know why women often stay with men who abuse

them -- whether it is physical abuse, such as beatings and

verbal taunting, or mental, such as isolating them from their

friends and family.

Offering them a place to go seemed like the most common of

common-sense solutions, said DeYoung. But, in 1976, it was

downright revolutionary.

"We were only the 13th shelter to open in the country, the very

first in the Southeast," DeYoung said. "Atlanta didn't have one.

Miami didn't have one. Charlotte didn't have one."

It just wasn't something people liked to talk about, Webb said.

"There were folks who really wanted to deny what was

happening," she said. …

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