Lee Lindsay: New leadership at Steps to HOPE

Published 3:11 pm Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lee Lindsay (right) with Rachel Ramsey (left)

Lee Lindsay (right) with Rachel Ramsey (left)

By Mark Schmerling

Polk County residents, both men and women, who need a good listener to help ease their distress, or immediate protection from domestic abuse, have a friend in Steps to HOPE, located in Columbus.


Actually, the individuals who phone Steps to HOPE’s crisis hot line, 828-894- 2340 (24 hours a day, seven days a week), have many friends.


Officially taking over on July 1 as the second Steps to Hope executive director in nearly 30 years, Lee Lindsay has already been at the agency for many weeks, immersing herself in the operations.


“Everybody needs a place to be able to go, and say they need help,” Lindsay remarked. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman. We help whomever.”


Lindsay will be taking over the reins from Rachel Ramsey, who is retiring as of June 30, after 29 years as Steps to HOPE’s executive director.


In addition to maintaining a temporary women’s shelter for domestic abuse victims, Steps to HOPE also offers programs to help prevent abuse such as the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (DAIP), for men and women separately, with programs in the community and including those discussing cyber-stalking.


“Women who have been abused need a safe haven,” Lindsay noted, adding that the shelter exists “so a person who is in a dire situation can be safe.”


Steps to HOPE also provides advocacy for abuse victims who often must navigate through the court system.


“It’s very daunting,” Lindsay said of the prospect of for already frightened person having to appear in court.


Steps to HOPE helps clients find homes and jobs. “Although,” as Lindsay notes, “we don’t tell anybody what they should do” as often the clients arrive from situations where someone else has ordered them around.


The agency’s involvement often begins when someone contacts the Polk County Sheriff’s Department to report abuse. Steps to HOPE employees will communicate with the county assistant district attorney, letting that person know about the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, a 26-week session for abusers that focuses on anger and confrontation, including how such behavior affects children in a mariage.


If an abuser completes the program, which is taught by a contracted counselor, the judge can decide whether to dismiss charges. Over the past five years, said Lindsay, Steps to HOPE has logged some 5,000 shelter nights, with some 450 men and women having attended DAIP. More than 900 children have participated in agency programs. Volunteers at both Steps to HOPE’s headquarters and its Second Chance thrift store on Mills St. in Columbus, have put in more than 50,000 hours.


Steps to HOPE provides volunteer training sessions for workers in the thrift store, as they represent the agency.


“That’s phenomenal,” Lindsay noted. “That’s people in the community who want to volunteer and make a difference.”


Lindsay’s own background includes an early career in nursing, which prepared her for working with clients who need help.


She later spent 32 years working her way up with Milliken Chemical’s Spartanburg facility. There, Lindsay was involved with product development and testing, new product specifications, and customer support in the field.


“It was interesting,” Lindsay said, but added that Milliken decided to reduce its work force. She was not forced out, but chose to leave.


When she learned of Ramsey’s pending retirement, she thought, ‘I can get into this, to try to help, and see if I can make a difference.’


The Atlanta-born Lindsay said she is good at learning on the job. “I like to learn,” she said, “and I like people.”


She also sings in a community chorus. As president of the chorus, she’s helped raise money for college scholarships for local students. A former horse-riding enthusiast, Lindsay also served on the board of Friends of DuPont State Forest, working on that facility’s riding trails.


“I like variety,” Lindsay added. “I like learning new things. I like challenges.” The challenges she encounters now, she said, rivals that which she encountered in nursing.


Because children are so affected by abusive relationships, Steps to HOPE offers karate classes for children, given by an instructor who is also a qualified child counselor. Far from a free-for-all atmosphere, classes are conducted in a manner that teaches conflict resolution and how to de-escalate potentially threatening situations. Contact in class is between students and the instructor.


Volunteers help Steps to HOPE almost immeasurably, but the agency still requires funding sources. Nearly half the funding comes from the thrift store, Lindsay said. Community donations and fundraising also help. Steps to HOPE sponsors its annual golf tournament, also designed to raise needed funds. Lindsay said that the North Carolina Council for Women helps manage grants that come through the governor’s crime commission. Funding from Polk County Community Foundation pays for a summer intern for eight weeks each year.


In addition, some individuals volunteer to have fundraisers to benefit Steps to Hope. A church group has donated toiletry items to help those who’ve had to leave home quickly, without being able to pack.


“This organization has been prayed into being, Rachel Ramsey noted. “The community itself is what helps make this go. They see us making a difference.”


Lindsay said that Ramsey encouraged her to take Steps to HOPE into the future.


Even with all the good work that’s been done, there’s more to do,” Lindsay stated. “I don’t see an end to domestic abuse in sight.”


Lindsay plans on her agency reaching out to schools, possibly on career days. Such inclusive reaching out is why Steps to HOPE enjoys good community support.


Of the challenge to provide services to those in need, “Let’s go see what we can do,” she stated enthusiastically.


Steps to HOPE is located at 60 Ward St. in Columbus. The phone number (including the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week crisis hotline) is 828-894-2340.