For Jennifer Pollitt Hill, there's a lot of power in a name. Hill is the director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, a nonprofit that provides aid to domestic violence and sexual assault victims. On Dec. 1, the organization's name will change to HopeWorks, a moniker Hill hopes will better convey the message and breadth of services the center offers.
"The hope is that we will work towards a Howard County that is free of sexual and domestic violence," she said. "So we wanted to be sure that we had a title that was large enough to encompass all the many ways in which we try and be change agents."
The name change has been a long time in the making, according to Hill.
HopeWorks has existed since 1978, when it was incorporated as Citizens Against Spousal Abuse, or CASA. In the early 1990s, the organization changed its name to the Domestic Violence Center.
But in 2010, the organization's role expanded when the county's Sexual Trauma Treatment and Recovery group folded, and the Domestic Violence Center absorbed its programs. Suddenly, "the Domestic Violence Center" didn't describe the full range of programs the organization offered.
"We've been having a conversation about a name change ever since we took on sexual assault services, because we're called the Domestic Violence Center but we also serve this whole other population of folks," Hill said. "We're so excited to have finally evolved into HopeWorks."
Despite its new name, the organization's programs will remain the same.
Come December, HopeWorks will still offer core support services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as well as craft educational opportunities as part of its goal to effect wider societal change.
For individual clients, the center runs 24-hour helplines for victims of both domestic violence (410-997-2272 or 1-800-752-0191) and sexual assault (410-997-3292). Trained employees can host interventions for perpetrators of domestic abuse.
The organization also has emergency and transitional housing for survivors, as well as employees available to accompany victims to the hospital for support during a forensic exam, to provide short- and long-term counseling and to offer legal advice.
The group does prevention work, too. A youth program teaches young people how to talk to their peers about sexual and domestic violence and what they can do if they witness abuse.
A program called Project Empowerment unites high schoolers from around the county for monthly leadership training that result in projects and public presentations about domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention.
Hill said that while many people think of the center as a place for women, lately the group has gotten more men and children participating in its programs. HopeWorks hired a male educator at the beginning of this year.
"I think sometimes people think of it as a women's issue, and it's not a women's issue," she said. "It is a community issue. It certainly affects men.
"We need men to be part of this conversation about how to support our male clients, how to support men getting help, but also that sort of bystander intervention — what do I do when I hear people making jokes and talking about things going on at the house that don't seem right? How does one guy talk to another guy about that? … We're eager to advance that conversation."
As the holidays approach, Hill is eager to get the message out that there is support for everyone who needs it at HopeWorks. Though it's hard for the center to peg fluctuations in incoming clients to outside events, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is often difficult for survivors.
"Either people are in a situation that's not a great situation and it gets heightened by a lot of the stress that happens around the holidays, or they're just really reminded that their family is not the same configuration that it might have been last holiday season," Hill said. "I think sometimes, though the incidents of violence may not necessarily increase, it's felt more acutely over the holidays."
She wants to make sure the center's message isn't lost in the transition. "We're still here, we're still providing all those core services that we've always provided and really just want to get the message out that we're going strong," she said.
The new name, she added, is mainly a way to express the core value of the center: "What we do is hope to create that belief that things can be different. That's what 'hope' is, that belief, that expectation, that things can change, and 'works' is how you get there, how you do that transformational piece."
For information on the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, call 410-997-0304 or go to http://www.dvcenter.org.