When Leanne Graham turned in the keys this week to the building Victim Assistance Program occupied on Furnace Street for 46 years, she got a little teary.

“It was bittersweet,” said Graham, the agency’s executive director.

Graham, however, and her growing staff are excited about the new location the agency moved into this week in downtown Akron that will put its employees in closer proximity to those they serve.

“This couldn’t come at a better time,” said Alexandra Potter, the supervisor of crisis services. “We have a lot of big plans.”

Victim Assistance closed to walk-in clients in the past week — still operating its 24-hour hotline — to allow the staff to settle into the third floor of the Delaware building, 137 S. Main St. The agency will welcome clients for the first time in its new space at 8 a.m. Monday.

The agency moved from 150 Furnace St. because it outgrew the space where it had been located since its inception in 1972. The agency’s 35 employees provide crisis intervention, advocacy and education to crime victims, assisting more than 7,000 people in 2018.

The new location is 10,000 square feet, more than double the space in the previous location. The agency is leasing the space for five years, with the opportunity to renew for another five years.

The move will put more of the agency’s employees, who had been split between Furnace Street and the ninth floor of the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center, under one roof. Advocates, however, will still work in the Akron detective bureau and the Akron, Barberton and Stow courts.

Potter said the three goals for the new space were safety, confidentiality and accessibility. She said the new building is on a bus line — while the old one wasn’t — and is handicapped-accessible.

“We are keeping clients seeking services first,” she said.

What's new

Clients who visit will enter through the building’s lobby — and then ride up on an elevator — or through a back door on Bowery Street that opens to the third floor. They will check in at the reception desk in the agency’s lobby and be escorted to one of the private client meeting rooms. They will leave through a private exit.

The rest of the space is made up of offices, conference rooms and common areas for the staff and a large training room named in honor of the Rev. Bob Denton, who founded Victim Assistance. Safety features include 16 security cameras and keyless entries.

Employees made several suggestions that were incorporated into the new space, including putting lights outside of meeting rooms that will be turned on to indicate meetings with clients.

The new location has a “trauma-free” room where employees can decompress after meeting with clients. The room has two large couches — donated by Wayside Furniture — and will eventually have soft music playing and calming scents from an essential oil diffuser.

“It’s a time to come and just kick back and maybe put your feet up,” said Graham, as she sat on a couch and kicked back the reclining seat.

Other special touches are planned for the future, including Graham’s idea to hang photographs of employees’ dogs sporting Victim Assistance bandanas by the client meeting rooms. Each picture will include the name of the pooch and owner and a tidbit about the owner.

“It will be a nice little touch to personalize who we are,” Graham said.

Backers drop in

While employees worked on setting up in the new space, several supporters of the agency dropped in to check out the progress. This included Sylvia Trundle, a retired Akron police captain who chaired a capital campaign to raise money for renovations.

“I’m amazed by the difference this will make to the services they provide,” she said after a tour.

The agency hasn’t met the goal of the $450,000 capital campaign, so far falling about $100,000 shy. Several grant applications, however, are still pending with local foundations. The agency learned this week that it received a $50,000 grant from the Huntington Foundation.

As for what will happen with the Furnace Street building, that hasn’t yet been decided. The Safety Chaplaincy Board, which leased the space to Victim Assistance and operates out of the Furnace Street Mission, plans to address the now empty building this year.

Chip Westfall, a retired Akron police captain who heads the chaplaincy board, said he was saddened when Graham turned in the keys. However, he predicted, the new distance between the agencies won’t sever their long history and collaboration.

“Our connections are going to still be the same,” he said.

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter:@swarsmithabj.