Cumbee Center helps violence, abuse victims

STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES The headquarters of The Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons is located on Lancaster Street.

The work done by The Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons can turn tears into smiles, according to the organization’s executive director, Kay Mixon. The nonprofit venture’s efforts also can have other important positive effects on a distraught woman.

“Within 60 days, she gets herself pulled together,” Mixon said. “She is able, for the first time, to think for herself, know that her opinion counts, know that she can make choices and know that she can stand on her own.”

Established in 1979, the Cumbee Center helps victims of domestic and sexual assault. The organization’s services include crisis, group and individual counseling; temporary emergency shelter in a safe house and legal advocacy.

“If a domestic or sexual assault victim is brought into the emergency room of the hospital, we get a call and either one of our staff members or one of our volunteers will respond and go there,” Mixon said. “We are there strictly for the victim. We are not there to judge them or push our morals on them. We’re there to listen, to hold a hand and sometimes we have to hold a bucket because they get upset and very sick because of what has happened.”

The Cumbee Center also coordinates a treatment program for batterers. Known as Unity, it provides counseling services for abusers.

“I feel very strongly that we’ve got to deal with that problem if we are ever going to really make a difference; we can’t just put a Band-Aid on it,” Mixon said. “Abuse is a learned behavior, and it goes from generation to generation unless you step in and do something. We have had some success (in changing behavior), probably about 45 percent. It looks low and it’s not what I would like, but if we can get even one to change, it’s significant.”

The Cumbee Center has an annual budget of just under $180,000, 17 employees and approximately 75 volunteers. The organization’s headquarters is located on Lancaster Street.

In 2012, the Cumbee Center helped nearly 1,900 people.

“For domestic violence, we serve Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties,” Mixon said. “For sexual assault, we serve Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties. We have satellite offices in Barnwell and Edgefield counties, and our safe house is right here in Aiken.”

The safe house can shelter up to 25 women and their children.

“It gives the women time to be safe, kind of settle down, look at their situations and start thinking about the decisions they will need to make,” Mixon said. “It’s really good for the children, too. When they come to the safe house, they’re afraid. Everything is new and they don’t understand; all they know is that daddy hit momma. But in a day or so, they’re out in the yard playing and running around and having a good time. They know they can go to bed at night and not be afraid.”

The Cumbee Center also operates a donation center known as the Bargain Box on Richland Avenue. The clothes, furniture, food and other items given to the Center are distributed to needy domestic violence and sexual abuse victims and their families. The items that can’t be used are sold in the Bargain Box store, and the money raised is used to support the Cumbee Center.

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.