Harden Makes Impact at Local YWCA Shelter

One in four women in the United States will be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, but it is the number one least reported crime in the country. Even for those who know someone who has been a victim of such a crime, it is impossible to understand the full extent of the trauma involved and the difficulties of the healing process that takes place afterwards.

As a result, shelters like the one at the Oklahoma City YWCA are essential assets to women and families who need to find a way out of a dangerous and unhealthy situation. Last week before the Thunder embarked on a five-game, ten-day road trip to the West Coast, guard James Harden decided to visit the shelter, bringing his trademark bearded grin, energy and openness to a place that needs it the most.

“They’ve been through so much in their lives,” Harden said of the women and children at the shelter. “Just to come and make them smile and have a good time, it’s a dream come true. I feel good about it and I know they feel good.”

From signing autographs, joining in on group pictures, taking part in a pizza party and even playing a little backyard basketball with three of the children who were staying in the shelter with their mothers, Harden single-handedly created a special afternoon. It was especially poignant because of the typical atmosphere in the shelter. Men are rarely, if ever, allowed onto the premises, but YWCA CEO Jan Peery said that Harden’s presence can help make way for others in Oklahoma City to realize that women are not the only ones impacted by domestic violence or sexual assault. Harden’s visit confirmed that it is, in fact, a societal issue that people from all walks of life need to care about.

“It helps to know that this is not a women’s issue, this is a community issue," Peery said. "We need to have men involved in one way or another. In every way, actually, to be able to help us get this message out.”

One of the avenues the Thunder and Harden used in its aim to support the YWCA and the shelter was by donating a substantial check to the YWCA capital campaign. Those funds amplified the YWCA's development project that will fund a brand new shelter adjacent to the current site. The shelter that Harden visited will remain a part of the YWCA’s efforts, serving as an extended-stay location for women and their children, while the new shelter will be a place for emergency situations. Once completed, both buildings and the staff within them will continue to serve as a place for those in need to come to for aid.

“It is a safe haven,” Peery explained. “We want people of all backgrounds and all socioeconomic backgrounds, to know that this is here. Getting away from domestic violence situations is a very dangerous time. This is a place they can go without anybody else being put in danger as well. So knowing that the people here care about them and knowing that we’re going to help them and do whatever we can so they can begin a life again and a journey of healing (is important).”

Part of the process that takes place from the initial reception of emergency calls begins with the availability of space at the shelter. Once the new shelter has been completed, there will be more rooms available, but for now, the YWCA staff is sure to find a safe place somewhere in the area or a community advocate if their shelter is full. If a woman or family is able to come to the shelter, the staff immediately assesses their physical and emotional needs and goals, helping them to understand that they are not alone, and that the situation is not their fault.

The next step is to help get the women and family back on their feet, and whether it is through an economic empowerment program or legal resources, the YWCA staff helps these families put their lives back together. In most respects, however, the most essential aspect of the shelter’s function is what it does in those emergency situations, when women and children are fleeing from a perilous situation.

“Probably the best way to picture this is if your house caught on fire and you had to get out with your life, what would take with you?” Peery said before pausing, adding emphatically, “And then what would you need the next day? That’s often what they face.”

In speaking with some of the women at the shelter, it is clear that the physical, monetary and everyday needs of a daily life are important in those first hours at the YWCA, but that the emotional and mental support that the shelter provides is invaluable. Considering the fact that half of the murder victims in Oklahoma City in 2012 thus far have been domestic violence victims and that 95 percent of domestic violence murder victims in Oklahoma City over the last ten years did not receive prior assistance, the situation is beyond frightening.

That shocking reality is certainly not lost on Harden, who made it very clear that even if people in the community haven’t been directly or indirectly affected by a domestic violence situation, all they have to do is imagine if the problem hit close to home.

“What if somebody in your family was in that situation?” Harden asked, explaining his personal motivation to visit the shelter. “I just try to make these people smile because I know that they’ve been through a lot. So I just try to make them smile and have a good time while I’m here.”

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If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence or sexual assault situation, please call the state-wide emergency hotline number: 1-800-522-SAFE (7233). The hotline is open 24 hours, seven days a week. />/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>