Synergy. the Word has gained a connotation of corporate Double speak, but used in the right capacity, it is a noble ideal. When it comes to Synergy Services, it becomes the best possible use of the term. Synergy, by its very definition, means that two or more agencies are working together to accomplish more than they could on their own.
Synergy Services is focused on families in crisis. The organization has countless programs focused on offering refuge for battered women, runaway teenagers and anyone else that needs a safe place. Their work in domestic violence was groundbreaking in the state and they are constantly renewing their efforts to keep up with the unfortunate flood of people that are in need of their services.
According to Robin Winner, executive director, this broad-spectrum agency started with Synergy House in 1971 with one purpose: to keep runaways safe.
“This was a time when a lot of kids were going down to Westport and getting into trouble. Synergy House was formed so that run-aways would have a safe place to go to if they couldn’t stay at home,” says Winner.
Park University provided the space for Synergy House and youths immediately began seeking refuge. The house, which began as just a short-term shelter on the bottom floor, grew to accommodate a longer-term girls’ shelter on the top floor and functioned in that capacity until 2010.
In the mid 1980’s, Safe Haven, a domestic violence shelter, was formed. The Harvest Ball Society was formed in 1987 to raise money for a brick and mortar building for the organization. It was the first domestic violence shelter built from the ground up in Missouri.
The two organizations operated separately for a fair period of time until the boards started discussing a merger in the early 1990s. In 1997, the two merged and added the Children’s Advocacy Center to become Synergy Services. Since then they have also merged with STOP Violence, a school-based anti-bullying program.
Winner says that originally, it was unusual to have youth services and domestic violence services under one roof. More recently, studies by the Harvard School of Public Health have shown that integrated services are needed when dealing with violence prevention and intervention, so Synergy Services is ahead of the game.
In recent years, Synergy has built the Youth Resiliency Center located off of Parvin Road. The center has become the epicenter of a program that is focused on not only taking kids out of harm’s way physically, but mentally as well. The center features a teaching kitchen, creative arts center, a dental and medical home clinic, a computer lab, recording studio and sports programs, in addition to the homeless youth drop-in center with showers, lockers, laundry facilities and a lounge.
Now, the agency is constantly looking for better and more efficient ways to help the nearly 1200 people that were sheltered and the nearly 3,000 calls that were fielded by the Synergy Women’s Hotline in 2007 alone. Working with local police departments and within schools to educate caregivers and authority figures on how to deal with potential domestic violence victims is just one part of their continuing outreach.
Dr. Sarah Brammer, director of domestic violence program and founder of the batterer’s intervention program, says that the attitude towards domestic violence treatment is the healthiest that it has ever been.
“As women’s rights have developed, and women have answered the questions of ‘can I divorce my husband, can I make it on my own’, and services have evolved with them, we are seeing many more women step up and ask for help in abusive situations,” says Brammer.
The danger for victims in an abusive relationship, according to Brammer and Corky McCaffrey, goodwill ambassador and intake specialist, is believing that their attackers are going to stop. Unfortunately, abusers seldom look the way that we imagine, instead appearing as regular, or even charming, people that have severe power issues behind closed doors.
“The first thing we try to do with a domestic violence survivor is provide a safety plan. The truth of the matter is five out of seven times that a person leaves an abusive situation, they will go back, so safety plans when they are in that situation are critical,” says Brammer.
Brammer says that women that return to their abusers are much more likely to be assaulted with that attack ending on homicide. “Part of what abusers do is work on breaking their partner down, so that she doesn’t leave. If she leaves, he has lost control, so his ability to manage himself and identify how much pressure to apply is off, so he’s much more likely to kill her after she’s left,” says Brammer.
With these stakes in mind, Synergy and its spider web of programs is intent on teaching survivors how to do just that—survive. With an emergency shelter, low or no cost counseling, a thrift store to help rebuild their lives after leaving and long term physical and mental care, Synergy is treating the problem from all sides, using the power behind their multi-tactical plan to its fullest advantage.