By TEDDYE SNELL
Thirty years ago, when Deana Franke saw a flyer at the library asking for domestic violence hotline volunteers, she thought it would be a good way to meet people and give something back to the community.
Over the past three decades, Franke not only has volunteered for Help-In-Crisis, but she rose to the rank of executive director, and has helped thousands of women and families escape violent home situations. Now, she’s set to retire at the end of the year.
“I started in 1980 as a hotline worker after seeing a flyer at the library when I took my two young sons to story hour,” said Franke. “Mary Jo Cole and Eva Galluzzi were in that first training [class] with me. The agency was all-volunteer at that time, with Linda Axley, Lynne McAllister and Dr. Amy Blackburn providing training to interested community members.”
HIC had its beginnings in 1980 as an idea in the minds and the hearts of local individuals – including mental health professional, law enforcement officials, medical personnel and other social service workers – who had seen the need for organized, easily obtainable, 24-hour assistance for people in crisis.
In fall 1980, a board of directors with 12 members was formed, and the name Help-In-Crisis was chosen. The following spring, HIC was set to train volunteers for the crisis line and transporting women and children to shelters around the state.
“I also thought [getting involved] would be a good way to meet people who care about their community,” said Franke. “I did not have an easy childhood, but violence and fear were not part of my life as I grew up. I was so surprised by the number of families experiencing domestic violence and the sheer terror that controlled these homes. The hotline training made me feel there was something I could do to help.”
As she continued in the work, Franke was struck by the strength of the women HIC served.
“My sweet husband [Mike] encouraged me, and we began to provide a safe home for families that had nowhere to go,” said Franke. “Seeing those women and children on my couch and front room floor was a turning point for me.”
As time has passed, HIC has grown exponentially, offering services in Cherokee, Adair, Wagoner and Sequoyah counties, with a shelter in Tahlequah.
Franke has countless fond memories of her time spent at the agency.
“I remember when the board bought our first shelter,” said Franke. “It was such a great day to have somewhere safe and decent for families to go. The day I was made executive director was a biggie, and my knees shook for months. The day the military volunteers came from Muskogee and helped us move into our new facility stands out, as their dedication and hard work were beyond any call of duty.”
Franke attributes her commitment to the agency to several mentors, all of whom have been involved with HIC in one way or another.
“Linda Axley has helped me throughout the past 30 years,” said Franke. “She is smart, no-nonsense, and is always ready to listen and help. She is also kind, funny and focused. Pam Moore, the first executive director, is one of my best friends and I have learned so much from her. She is one of the best teachers I have ever known. She is also a great listener, and has the best way of helping you to see the real issues time and again.”
Franke also credits two board members, Margaret Elgin Smith and Bill Morris, for helping her maintain her focus.
“Also, Mike Skinner and John Yeutter have given me hope that men can and will play a role in stopping this vicious tragic cycle in families,” said Franke.
But what stands out most for Franke are the memories of the people HIC has helped.
“My most cherished memories are the faces of the women through the years who figured out they do not have to live in violence and fear, and took the steps to stop the cycle in their own lives,” she said. “I must admit that raising three young children and watching them grow into smart, caring members of their community is my most precious achievement.”
As with any non-profit charitable agency, funding has always been HIC’s greatest challenge.
“Keeping services available in the four counties we serve has proved almost impossible at times,” said Franke. “The winning of a federal grant twice in the past 10 years was such a help, but when you cannot maintain those services, once communities are expecting a staff member to be available, that is very discouraging.”
Franke said her work, while rewarding, hasn’t been without heartbreak.
“[I hate] losing exceptional staff members to better benefits and salaries,” she said. “[It’s also heartbreaking] to see the second and third generation of survivors come into our office for services. I genuinely, naively, believed this was a problem we could solve, and it has proved to be exceptionally tenacious.”
Franke said she will most miss the “lightbulb moment” when a survivor realizes she or he will not stand for abuse any longer.
“I will so miss that spark in a survivor’s eye when she – or he – knows they will no longer tolerate abuse,” said Franke. “Also, I will miss the problem-solving that goes on every day as we try to find ways to light that spark.”
Margaret Cook has been selected by the board of directors to assume Franke’s post in January, after she completes her juris doctorate. Cook is a longtime Tahlequah resident, and has worked with HIC in a number of capacities, including directing the Helping You Grow prevention project and as a child advocate at the shelter.
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