A new home: Safe Passage buys Carlon Drive building, seeks to expand mission

  • Safe Passage Development and Special Events Coordinator Amber Abdella works in the nonprofit’s development offices at 16 Center St. in Northampton on Thursday, just days after its biggest fundraiser yet, the 14th annual Hot Chocolate Run. The organization has bought a building at 76 Carlon Drive, below, for $1.235 million and plans to relocate it headquarters there next spring. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING PHOTOS

  • Safe Passage Volunteer Coordinator Rob Powell works in the non-profit's administrative offices at 16 Center Street in Northampton on Thursday, December 7, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Safe Passage Executive Director Marianne Winters works in the non-profit's administrative offices at 16 Center Street in Northampton on Thursday, December 7, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Safe Passage will be relocating to this property it purchased at 76 Carlon Drive in Northampton, shown Thursday, December 7, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Safe Passage Office Manager and Program Assistant Theresa Maenzo-Tanner, left, confers with volunteers Mia Lloyd and Carter Kyle in the nonprofit’s program offices at 43 Center St. in Northampton on Thursday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 12/8/2017 9:00:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Longtime nonprofit Safe Passage will soon consolidate its operations into a new home on Carlon Drive, a move staff say will allow the organization to expand and improve its mission to help people affected by interpersonal violence.

The 40-year-old organization finalized the purchase of a building at 76 Carlon Drive for $1.235 million on Friday, and will move its offices from three locations on Center Street in Northampton to the new space in May.

“This is a huge moment for Safe Passage,” Executive Director Marianne Winters said, adding that the purchase was made possible by the community’s “stunning generosity.”

Dedicated to combating interpersonal and domestic violence in Hampshire County and the hill towns of Hampden County, Safe Passage raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year at its marquee fundraiser, the Hot Chocolate Run. This year, the run brought in $615,000.

Safe Passage is probably best known for its domestic violence shelter space, the location of which it keeps secret. However, as Safe Passage Deputy Director Lynne Marie Wanamaker points out, the organization offers much more than that.

“We have an enormous amount of client services that happen outside the shelter,” she said.

Some of these are a children’s program, counselor advocates and a legal program. However, these offerings have placed a toll on the organization’s infrastructure.

“Our ... direct service office is already straining,” she said.

Currently, Safe Passage has three different office spaces — a condo that it owns on 43 Center St. and another two that it rents on the same floor at a 16 Center St. building.

Winters indicated that this set up is not sustainable, as there simply isn’t enough space. Indeed, she said that Safe Passage could not hire another full-time counselor and give them an office with a door that closes.

“That’s the level of capacity,” she said.

Additionally, she said that the space has put a limit on the number of group settings Safe Passage can currently offer.

Wanamaker said that the new space will give Safe Passage’s staff the flexibility to accommodate the arrangements they feel are needed.

“We want to do better,” she said.

The organization has been looking for a new space for years — both in and out of Northampton — that meets its needs and complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The new space on Carlon Drive meets these goals.

“ADA compliance is enormous for us,” said Wanamaker, who said that Safe Passage is proud of its disability services program.

The new digs also enable the organization to stay in Northampton and keep relationships it has built over the years, Winters said.

Safe Passage Board Chairwoman Natasha Yakovlev said that she anticipates the organization will move into the new building by May 1.

“The whole team is going to be coming back together,” she said. “One stop for everything.”

The building was purchased through financing with Greenfield Savings Bank. The costs to operate the building will be roughly the same as the organization’s current locations. Nevertheless, Safe Passage will soon launch a capital campaign to help offset the costs of the purchase.

“Every dollar that we reduce our occupancy cost can actually create more services,” Winters said.

The building will also undergo a renovation prior to the move-in.

Expanded mission

One of the reasons Safe Passage needs to expand is its revised mission statement, adopted in 2015, which dedicates the organization toward doing more community outreach and combating some of the systemic causes of interpersonal violence.

Safe Passage currently works with the district attorney’s office to help people who are at high risk of homicide in domestic violence situations. With broader community engagement, Winters said Safe Passage will be able to enlist more people to help identify these homicide risk factors.

“That’s where our professional expertise lies,” said Wanamaker.

Winters also noted that the field is becoming more aware of the economic component of domestic violence, and the economic toll that most survivors take when leaving an abusive relationship. As such, she said that Safe Passage is looking into working on this economic component and partnering more extensively with other organizations for such things as job training.

She also noted that domestic violence is often worsened if one carries marginalized identities, such as being transgender, living in a rural area or being a racial or religious minority. As such, she said that it is important for Safe Passage to be a part of all social justice conversations, citing immigration as a specific example.

Another key element of the revised mission statement is its gender-neutral language.

“People of all genders are affected by interpersonal violence,” said Wanamaker, who noted that some people, such as trans women, are affected more than others.

She also noted that this language doesn’t mean a hard-pivot for Safe Passage, as it has always been a gender-inclusive organization, and that its mission statement now reflects that reality.

While the new building will not be expanding Safe Passage’s geographic imprint, Winters said that it will allow it to strengthen its relationships with neighboring organizations in Franklin, Hampden and Berkshire counties.

There are currently no plans for Safe Passage to hire additional staff before the move. However, there are plans next fiscal year to hire someone to work with transgender, gender nonconforming and gender nonbinary people.


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