Nonprofits – ‘Creating change to end abuse’: New Wellspring facility brings greater visibility, expansion of services

Wellspring community playroom at their new facility on Route 9 in Malta.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Wellspring community playroom at their new facility on Route 9 in Malta.

People who come to Wellspring are often in a dark place.

They are dealing with physical, emotional or psychological abuse. Maybe someone is controlling them financially or isolating them from others.

Now they can reveal their story and get help in a bright, hopeful place tucked among tall maples and pines, a place where sunlight streams through an abundance of windows. Clients even have their own private entrance.

On Oct. 4, after more than 10 years of planning and raising $3 million for the project, Wellspring opened its new 8,000-square-foot building on Route 9 in Malta.

For a homegrown nonprofit agency that operated out of a basement office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs for nearly 40 years, it’s a huge step forward in a mission to support survivors of relationship and sexual abuse.

“We wanted to create a space that was more welcoming, inviting, and felt safe and secure for the folks who are coming in for services, but we also wanted to look at how we can get ahead of these issues,” says Executive Director Maggie Fronk. “To do that, we needed a space so that we can invite the community in, to educate them and make them our partners in creating the social change needed to end abuse.”

Expanding services
Their office on Broadway had the space for counseling but fell short on room for other services and programs to help people impacted by domestic abuse, rape and assault. Domestic violence shelters, also called safe dwellings, have always been off-site, at locations that are confidential.

The new building has 10 counseling rooms and a children’s room where kids, from toddlers to teens, can play or nap or hang out while a parent is in counseling, at a hospital or with police.

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There’s a food pantry with a fridge, freezer and shelves stocked with groceries and personal items such as diapers and toiletries.

“Last year we gave out 17,000 pounds of food,” says Fronk.

Another room will be devoted to podcasting, a new program that allows clients to access information on cellphones without leaving their home or children. “They can listen in the car at a soccer game,” says Fronk.

Prevention programs
In a 40-seat conference room, the agency will host professional training for their partners in law enforcement and health care, plus programs for educators, community agencies and the public. “We’ll have many programs around prevention and social change. We’ve already been doing many of those for years,” Fronk says. Prevention education programs in high schools and colleges reach 6,000 students each year.

Creative Expressions, another program in the works, has its own room where clients will explore visual arts, literary expression, yoga, storytelling or stress management.

“Whatever works for them and gives them the skills they need for healing,” Fronk says.

A graduate of Shaker High and Union College, Fronk is in her 20th year as Wellspring’s leader after jobs in mental health treatment at Mohawk Opportunities in Schenectady and at CARES in Albany, working with the homeless and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Front and center
Visibility is one of the best things about the new building, she says.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault both happen out of sight. When our agency was also out of sight, people forget that there’s a place where they can go to get help. As it is now, you can be driving down the road any day and say, ‘You know, today I need to turn in and talk to somebody.’ ”

Wellspring has a 20-member staff, and that number is expected to increase with the new site.

“Every year we see 1,000 people who have been affected by relationship or sexual abuse. Our hotline answers 1,700 calls a year,” says Fronk.

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Clients can also “talk” to a counselor on a live chat, a new feature on the website that allows communication without an abuser hearing the conversation. “We launched it as soon as COVID happened and we saw that people were home with their abuser and kids 24/7. You can talk in real-time with an advocate just by typing.”

No typical clients
Domestic abuse affects one in four women and one in seven men, according to Fronk, and there is no typical client at Wellspring.

“Sometimes it’s a teenager with dating abuse. Sometimes it’s a mother with three kids who feels trapped in a situation. Sometimes it’s a man who is being abused by his female partner. Sometimes it’s an elder. Sometimes it’s not someone who is being personally abused but they might have a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a neighbor, a friend or an employee who’s experiencing abuse, and they can get services at no cost from us, too, to help that person in their life. … We have people who call our hotline and say that I’ve been in this situation for years and I’ve never even told my sister.”

Some clients only need advice on how to get an order of protection; others need help finding long-term housing.

“Often an abuse victim is trapped in an abusive situation simply because of economic dependence, especially if there are small children,” says Fronk. “We are going to have programs to help people to earn a living wage so that they can support their family and not be dependent on someone else for financial support.”

There for everyone
But people don’t need to be in crisis to use the services, which are free, confidential and nonjudgmental. “It doesn’t matter what walk of life they’re from. We are here for everyone,” Fronk says.

Wellspring counselors, called “advocates,” also come to the aid of women and men in Saratoga and Washington counties who have been raped.

“We work with people in whatever way is best for them,” Fronk says. “Some people will go to the hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam, an exam done by specially trained nurses. We will meet them at the hospital, explain what their rights and options are, explain what the process is and give them the support that they need then and going forward.”

While dealing with abuse and assault can be a difficult job, Fronk finds joy in getting to know clients whose lives get better.

“We have people who come to us who are maybe in some of their darkest moments and they don’t see a way out or can’t see the future. Every day our advocates help them to a better place. We see someone who came in with no hope who now has a new beginning.”

Wellspring
FOUNDED: Late 1970s
MISSION: Supports survivors of relationship and sexual abuse, partners with community to end abuse.
AREAS SERVED: Saratoga County
IF YOU NEED HELP: 24/7 hotline number is 518-584-8188, live chat on www.wellspringcares.org or visit office at 2816 Route 9, Malta, across from the Malta Ridge Fire Department.
QUOTE: “It doesn’t matter what walk of life they’re from. We are here for everyone,” — Maggie Fronk, executive director

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Categories: Life and Arts, Nonprofits 2021

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