Public, others reach out to save Hope

Sonny Long

May 13, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.
Updated May 14, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.

For Michelle Koenig, keeping Hope of South Texas open is personal.

A victim of childhood sexual abuse from the age of 5 to 19, Koenig, now 26, turned to Hope of South Texas to help deal with her past demons.

"They were there for me and still are," she said. "No matter when the sexual abuse happens, it weighs on your brain and on your heart until you get help."

The largest sexual assault crisis center in the area is in danger of closing because of the loss of grant funding.

In an effort to raise funds for Hope, Koenig used her contacts through her church and through A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service) retreats to get the word out.

"I sent out emails urging everyone to keep Hope in South Texas. That was the subject of my emails," she said. "My immediate focus is to raise the funds to keep them open through the end of this fiscal year."

Koenig will be opening a post office box to receive donations for Hope of South Texas and has already had one commitment for $1,000.

"If we divide up what they need by 100 or more people, the amount isn't so intimidating," she said.

Koenig said she isn't sure people know how important Hope's work is.

"They will come, sit with a victim at the hospital if a sexual assault happens at 4 a.m.," she said. "They go to court with the person if they have to testify against their assailant.

"It would be tragic if we lost it."

Through efforts like Koenig's and others, executive director Julie Flessner sees hope for Hope of South Texas.

After the Victoria Advocate's story on May 6 detailing the agency's financial woes because of the loss of grant funds, Flessner said, public response has been positive.

"My phone started ringing at home at 10:30 Sunday morning," Flessner said. "I heard from board members, city council members and the general public. Everyone expressed their concern and wanted to know what they could do to help. There was a tremendous outpouring of support."

The agency will not receive grant funds in 2013 through the Texas Attorney General's Office because Flessner failed to submit grant applications in triplicate last March.

"People have come in and written checks. Some have offered to set up bank accounts to receive donations. Others want to have fund raisers for us," Flessner said. "It's heartwarming."

In addition to assistance coming in from the public, Flessner said she has also met with city of Victoria officials, detailing Hope's situation and seeking financial help.

Charmelle Garrett, Victoria city manager, was one of the first to hear from Flessner.

"I have asked Police Chief (JJ) Craig to work with Julie to determine the services and the cost of those services that Hope of South Texas provides to the police department," Garrett said. "Once that is determined, we can handle the additional cost request through the budget process."

Flessner said she is also contacting the other cities served by Hope of South Texas. The agency serves a six-county area including Victoria.

"The wheels are turning," Flessner said. "We're making an effort to reach out everywhere we serve. It's a lot of funding to have to make up. We are making progress, but still have a long way to go."

Hope of South Texas was allocated a total of $167,843 in crime victims compensation grant funds in 2011, according to the Texas Attorney General's Crime Victims Services Division annual report.

Hope of South Texas, founded in 1986, also operates a 24-hour crisis intervention hotline and includes a children's advocacy center.

Hope staff members accompany sexual assault victims and their families to the hospital, to court and to law enforcement agencies.

Don Polzin, executive director of Gulf Bend Center, who sits on the Hope board of directors, expressed gratitude for Flessner's handling of the situation.

The board rejected Flessner's offer to resign after her mistake in submitting the applications.

"I want to thank Julie for her courage and for taking responsibility," Polzin said. "Having this made public will make it much more manageable for both the staff and board, whatever the outcome."

Koenig fears the worst, if Hope of South Texas closes.

"If the communities it serves can't come together to save this organization, the suicide rate in this area will skyrocket," she predicted.

"If we lose Hope, we're going to lose the survivors of sexual abuse as well."



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