A Moment of Choice is a Moment of Truth: An Open Letter to the East Norriton Township Zoning Hearing Board Regarding Laurel House

Dear Solicitor Amuso, Chairman DiPietro, Ms. Cassel and Mr. Gillen:

“Integrity in the broadest sense must lead our actions in all relationships, including those with citizens and each other. On a daily basis, every one of us makes choices about how to behave – whether to do the right thing or simply the easy thing.” 
~ from the “Uncompromising Values of East Norriton” as stated on the East Norriton Township website

As residents and officials of East Norriton Township,  you have an opportunity to do the right thing.

During your upcoming zoning meeting on Tuesday 8/11 and Tuesday, 8/18,  you will be considering a proposed plan to relocate Laurel House’s domestic violence shelter and its administrative offices from Norristown to the grounds of St. Titus Church in East Norriton Township.

As you are undoubtedly aware, there is a segment of the community that strongly opposes this potential move. While they are certainly entitled to their opinion, it saddens me greatly that their stance is rooted in fear, misunderstanding, and prejudice about the essential services provided by Laurel House and, most especially, about the women and children whose very lives depend on those services.

My connection to Laurel House is that of a former employee. For five years, I worked for Laurel House as the agency’s Director of Development and Public Relations. During that time, I worked in the administrative offices and I often took funders to the shelter as part of our discussions about potential gifts and to show them how their contributions have impacted the women and children who depended on their support.

I admit, I was very scared the first time I visited Laurel House’s shelter. Part of me was terrified to walk through that door. You see, I’ve never been in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship where I feared for my personal safety, so I had misconceptions about what I could expect. I envisioned a stark, chaotic gymnasium-like room with wall to wall cots and out-of-control children.

It’s easy to visualize the worst when you don’t know what is on the other side of that door.

But when I did, I found a home-like atmosphere that looked nothing what I imagined. Laurel House’s shelter was clean and quiet, staffed with counselors talking quietly with women about legal options and how to find a job. Others were in the playroom, reading a book to a toddler. A few women were in the kitchen preparing lunch; a mom was feeding a baby who was sitting in a high chair.

And I began to realize that as afraid as I had been, the women rebuilding their lives at Laurel House were there because they truly knew what it was like to be scared to death. To feel unsafe.

The irony is that while the women are healing from their injuries and becoming emotionally stronger from some of the most horrific, incomprehensible experiences, the buildings are not as strong. The shelter is more than 100 years old and needs significant renovations in order to be fully accessible for people with disabilities. Federal and state budget cuts have impacted nonprofits in every corner of Pennsylvania while private philanthropic support for human service agencies like Laurel House is among the slowest-growing sectors of charitable giving. (Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

“We must do the right thing, even when it is painful or difficult….A moment of choice is a moment of truth. It’s the testing point of our character and competence.”
~ from the “Uncompromising Values of East Norriton” as stated on the East Norriton Township website 

East Norriton Township faces a moment of choice that is a moment of truth, and a true test of the community’s character. Unfortunately, there are some in the community who have chosen to approach Laurel House’s proposed relocation by spreading untruths about many aspects of the plan, including the number of people who will be living at the shelter (35 at any given time) and the perceived threat that the residents bring.

A letter sent to East Norriton residents states, “Even more tragically they will be at our bus stops, on our buses and in our neighborhoods. Unfortunately even attempting to make a positive interaction with them will be useless….

It’s delusional to believe that domestic violence victims and their children are somehow not already in one’s neighborhood. Because when nearly 20 people each minute are being physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, that means that a person you love or someone in your neighborhood – perhaps even that nice mom at your kids’ bus stop – is living with an abuser.

“We will always treat every person with respect and dignity. Our workplace is to be a shelter from violence, threats, harassment of any sort, discrimination, retribution, bullying, and abuses of all kinds.”
~ from the “Uncompromising Values of East Norriton” as stated on the East Norriton Township website

Solicitor Amuso, Chairman DiPietro, Ms. Cassel, Mr. Gillen and members of the East Norriton community, this decision gives you a chance to put your “uncompromising values” into action. You can do the right thing for a nonprofit that for 35 years has been serving the people of your community and all of Montgomery County.

You can approach this issue from a place of integrity and not irrational fear.

You can treat your neighbors with respect and dignity while serving as a shining example of a community that doesn’t tolerate violence and abuses, and by giving the children in your neighborhood a safe haven where they know they are loved and free from harm.

Let this moment of choice be a moment of truth for you, one where you leave fear on the steps and open the door to welcome in all that is possible through respect, dignity, peace, and love.

I thank you for your time and your careful consideration.

 

 

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