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Hope of South Texas suspends adult crisis services, hotline

By Sonny Long
Sept. 14, 2012 at 4:14 a.m.

Julie Flessner

HOPE BOARD

Members of the board of directors of Hope of South Texas include Ralph Buentello, Ruth Constant, Don Polzin, Chris Krejci, Diane Jones, Margaret Meyers, Jim Cole and Steve Tyler.

HOTLINE HELP

Mid-Coast Family Services operates a 24-hour domestic violence hotline. Call 361-575-7842.

Hope of South Texas has suspended its sexual assault crisis center and 24-hour crisis intervention hotline.

The financially strapped agency will concentrate its efforts on helping children in the Crossroads.

The agency's board of directors announced the change in a news release on Thursday.

After a Wednesday night meeting attended by representatives from the Victoria Police Department and Victoria County Sheriff's Office, board members voted unanimously to suspend adult services. The changes are effective immediately.

"We had to prioritize the services that we provide and with input from local law enforcement agencies, we determined the prudent and responsible course of action is to preserve the services we provide through the children's advocacy center," board president Ralph Buentello said in the news release.

"Unfortunately, that requires that Hope suspend the services that we provide to adults. It is our hope that the suspension is temporary and that additional funding will become available to support those services.

"The services that are being suspended are extremely important and the suspension of those services is a significant loss to the community."

Hope of South Texas, founded in 1986, serves six counties in the Golden Crescent region and operated the area's largest sexual assault crisis center.

Hope staff members accompanied sexual assault victims and their families to the hospital, to court and to law enforcement agencies. Hope also operated the 24-hour crisis intervention hotline.

Ginny Stafford, chief executive officer of Mid-Coast Family services that runs a women's shelter in Victoria, reacted to the news.

"It saddens me," Stafford said. "Hope of South Texas is a valuable partner in the healing of many of our clients. We are here to do all we can to help."

The Hope of South Texas children's advocacy center provides a place for forensic interviews and takes on cases whether the children are crime victims or witnesses to a crime.

The Hope board also announced the resignation of executive director Julie Flessner who has lead the agency since February 2004.

The Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas will provide executive director support in the interim, said Jim Cole, treasurer of Hope's board of directors.

"We will also be utilizing our existing staff to take on some of the responsibilities," Cole said. "Board members will also be taking on some of the responsibilities."

Flessner, who is starting a new career in the corporate world, said leaving the agency was an emotional decision.

"It has been a wonderful experience working at Hope," Flessner said. "Hope provides vital services to this community and it has been an honor to be part of the organization. I am confident that Victoria will find a way to serve those needs.

"This has been a very hard decision. It's been a great journey, an amazing journey."

Cole said Flessner will be missed.

"Julie has done an outstanding job as executive director for Hope. Having worked with her during difficult times for nonprofits, I can say Julie has provided the leadership we needed," Cole said.

"Her knowledge of the services we provide and her dedication to the persons we serve has been unflinching."

Flessner resigned to board members in August 2011 after she failed to submit duplicate copies of grant applications and the agency was denied Crime Victims Compensation grant funding through the Texas Attorney General's Office.

The board refused to accept her resignation at that time.

"Like many nonprofit agencies that rely heavily on grants from the government, funding has been a struggle for Hope," Buentello said.

"Available funding has been shrinking and as a result, agencies have been forced to look for ways to do things differently and hopefully better. The funding to support both programs provided by Hope, in the way they need to be supported, is just not currently there."

Cole said the agency will continue to function with the reduction in services.

"Hope has been able to maintain its reserves through the transition," he said. "When the transition is complete in the next few months we project we will be operating in the black and still maintain reserves.

"Our desire is to locate additional sources of revenues over time and add back in the services that are being suspended. Those additional funds would likely come from community fundraising, grants and reimbursements for services."

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