Oct. 19-When Kim DeCoste was doing a community assessment while obtaining her masters in public health nursing at EKU, she thought the topic would focus on diabetes prevention.
However, when she began to do interviews with leaders in the Richmond community about what they felt was needed, four individuals said domestic violence was a top priority - shifting DeCoste's focus unexpectedly.
This is one of the many ways things would fall into place for her as she began to develop the community's domestic violence shelter for women.
She began to work on addressing the need for a domestic violence shelter for women and children in the county, but tactics she pursued never took. She looked for ways to secure transitional housing through other organizations, but again was stalled.
A graduate student, sick at home and with low morale about her efforts, the young DeCoste thought of a pocket book by Norman Vincent Peale given to her by a friend to lift her spirits.
"Imagine what you want in material sense, and it's more likely to happen," she recalled one of the book's passages. "I closed my eyes, and in that moment I saw a mom pushing her child on a swing in the back of our shelter. It was a sunny day and everything was just good."
It is this very depiction DeCoste has seen on more than one occasion since the founding of Hope's Wings Domestic Violence Shelter in 2005. Here, DeCoste has served as a member of the program's board since inception and will step down from her position in November.
"That was my vision and that has come to be more than once," she said tearfully.
But manifesting her vision to a reality was not something done overnight, or by herself.
In fact, what sparked the creation of the shelter was a simple conversation in passing with Minister Thom Gibson of First Christian Church when she dropped by his office to say 'Hello.'
"I popped my head in and he said, 'Can I ask you something? Is there a domestic violence shelter in Richmond?' ... That is when I knew God had put me in a place to work on this. That 'Hello Thom' turned into an hour-long conversation."
There, at First Christian Church, a small board including DeCoste, Minister Gibson, and Mike and Marie Fore were appointed to address domestic violence. After working with community leaders and law enforcement, DeCoste said the efforts just fell into place to bring the program and shelter to fruition.
In March 2006, the small group of four became the non-profit Hope's Wings program, which is committed to providing emergency housing, outreach, and education to the community. They began to apply for grants to build a shelter and toured other facilities to get an idea of how they wanted to model their facility.
Upon touring some in other areas, DeCoste and the other board members liked what they saw, but something was missing: those shelters did not feel like a home.
"We all agreed that everything looked great in the shelters, but that it felt almost too institutionalized. I said right then, one requirement for our shelter was that it needs to feel like a home," DeCoste said. "It needs to look like a home. It needs to be an environment that is comforting as that is instrumental in these victims moving forward, healing, and moving past the situation they were in."
"It needs to be a comfortable, safe home environment, because a lot of them have not had the chance to live like that," she said.
It was the idea of second chances and new life which helped the program to receive its name.
"We liked the idea of wings because when you think of that you think of flying and soaring in life and that gives us hope, " she said. "And that is what I think Hope's Wings does and I have watched that happen with all the people I have had the pleasure of meeting."
During spring 2008, construction of an emergency shelter was completed and the shelter opened in 2009. What began as a 'Hello Thom' has now turned into a facility that offers a 24/7 crisis hotline, emergency shelter, transitional housing, children services, advocacy services and more to men, women and children all over Madison County.
The home has helped serve more than 800 women and children according to the Hope's Wings website.
Their work continues today at the facility and will continue to help service all who go there. According to Jennifer Lainhart, director of the shelter, the home is full and stays that way.
This would match statistics that state one in four women will experience domestic violence, as well as one in seven men. As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October - and throughout the year - the Hope's Wings shelter aims to educate the public about violence, and work their staff to make the community safer.
DeCoste acknowledged the work they have done, and will continue to do, was through all the efforts of the community, staff and volunteers.
"The staff is unreal," DeCoste said. "Whether it is a time resident assistant or volunteer that teaches someone to cook or any of the life skills that people need to live fully independent. It is about getting the right people on the bus, and we have that and have had that all along."
DeCoste said even before the shelter, there was staff and community members that helped make the program what it is today.
"All the partners and the community came together at really the right time to make it all happen, and it is a community organization through and through and to me it is a cool story and good example of Richmond and Madison County coming together to do something really good for the community."
Despite her stepping down from the board next month, DeCoste said she will always do what she can to support Hope's Wings.
"It's been an act of love and something that I didn't anticipate coming into my life and it is here to stay for as far as I can see," she said. "I am excited about where Hope's Wings is and that is a good place. We are doing what we were created to do and that is what is so wonderful. I can get cold chills all the time just thinking of that journey."
Most importantly DeCoste wants people to know there are others who care about them, and are willing to help.
"I am a firm believer that no individual deserves to live in that toxic environment where they are not treated in a respectful way and you don't have to live that way," she said. Hope's Wings is a way out."
If anyone is struggling with domestic violence or knows someone who is, Lainhart encourages them to reach out to Hope's Wings for resources and help for those in Madison or surrounding counties by contacting 859-623-4095.