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Center director works to end domestic abuse


Luellen Matthews, the new executive director of Howard County's Domestic Violence Center, is aiming to be unemployed.

"I'd like to think that in five years I'd be out of job because there would be no more domestic violence in Howard County and no more of a need for my position or the agency," said Ms. Matthews, 42, who has spent 20 years working in nonprofit organizations.

"Call it a 1960s mentality or pie-in-the-sky thinking; call it what you want," she said. "But I'd like to think public awareness about abuse will be at an optimal level. I hope to see it end someday."

The center's board chose Ms. Matthews, who began work last month, from among more than 120 applicants. Board members and center staff said the 19-year-old organization can benefit from her administrative, communication and business skills.

In her month as the center's director, she already has begun reorganizing its 24-member staff. Another key mission is to increase public awareness about domestic violence.

During the next five years, she would like for the center -- which is renting office space on Route 108 in east Columbia -- to move into its own offices, expand the number of beds in its shelter and offer more services to children who come to the center with their mothers.

The center's client load -- women in counseling or staying at its shelter and transitional homes -- has soared, from 379 women at the end of last year to 495 in April. Ms. Matthews expects the center to have more than 500 clients by the end of this year.

The number of calls to the center's 24-hour help line increased about 60 percent from 1991 to the end of last year.

In line with that, the center's budget has grown in the last three years from about $330,000 to more than $800,000, said Terence Farrell, president of the center's board. The number of staff members has doubled in the same period.

"The first task Ms. Matthews was faced with was to look at the internal workings of the organization," Mr. Farrell said. "Within the first three weeks she was making plans for the future and consolidating programs, all work we thought would take 90 to 120 days."

Ms. Matthews said that is just the beginning.

"I'm not satisfied with the status quo," she said. "I'm always willing to change to improve."

Ms. Matthews said she hopes that within five years the center will open its own building. By eliminating rent costs, she said, that would free $50,000 that could be used to serve clients.

"It makes sense when you're in the human services industry that you put money into humans, not buildings or landlords," she said.

Ms. Matthews said that with its own offices, the center could have its administrative offices and its shelter in the same building and could expand the number of beds in its shelter from eight to 16.

She said she also plans to expand the services offered for children at the center because of a growing need to help children in abusive homes.

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