The Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center

The Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit organization that aims to eradicate domestic violence through prevention and education, while providing safe haven and resources to victims. The Hope Center’s staff understands that victims of domestic violence often must uproot their lives in order to find safety—leaving their homes and belongings behind. They provide support throughout this difficult process for residents of the Alle-Kiski Valley in Southwestern PA.

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A wide variety of services are offered, including a 24/7 emergency hotline, which is the first point of contact for most individuals who receive services, according to Director Michelle Bond. Hotline counselors can provide practical suggestions regarding how to leave a violent situation—for example, pack a “safety kit” containing identification, a change of clothes, and other important items—as well as emotional support. About 3500 people are helped each year through the hotline, 30-day emergency shelter, legal advocacy, counseling and transitional housing. Prevention efforts and educational programming reach another 10,000 or so individuals every year.

“Our services are based on an empowerment model,” says Bond. “It’s not one-size-fits-all programming. It’s very self-directed. The individual calls and (receives information) and decides which services to use.”

The Hope Center also provides age-appropriate programming for students ages Pre-K through high school. “We have 3 advocates who are solely dedicated to prevention education,” says Bond. “(Participants) can enroll in one program or more. They can customize the program to meet the needs of the school or district…most schools (in the area) take advantage of the programming. We also offer programming for community programs, such as daycares, Brownie troops and Boy Scout troops.”

The organization expanded its gamut of services last November to include a program called SAF-T, or Sheltering Animals and Families Together, which was started by Allie Phillips in Alexandria, VA. “SAF-T recognizes the unique human-animal bond between families and their pets,” Bond says. “Often people delay leaving a violent situation because they don’t want to leave their pets. Pets can be victims of domestic violence, too. (The SAF-T initiative) provides a free start-up guide for shelters. Approximately 75 domestic violence programs nationwide have opened SAF-T programs.” The implementation of SAF-T is yet another way that the Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center provides survivors of domestic violence with empowering options and opportunities to heal.

The center will be hosting a unique fundraiser on October 5th in honor of national SAF-T day:  the 2nd Annual Howl-a-Ween Dog Walk and Costume Parade. Some highlights from last year’s costume parade include a golden retriever dressed up as “Bullseye”, the horse from Disney Pixar film, Toy Story, complete with “Woody” cowboy doll, as well as an entire family—human and canine—in fairy costumes. Prizes will be given for the best costumes. Vendors such as Thirty One Gifts, Tastefully Simple and Camp Bow Wow, dog massages, hikes and a raffle will make for a fun day with your furriest family member!

Registration begins at 8am, and dog walks take place anytime between 9am and noon. The costume parade begins at noon. Tickets are $10 per owner/dog pair and $20 for a family with unlimited dogs.

Make a stand and help to end domestic violence by supporting this vital support organization. You can visit the AK Hope Center website and make a direct donation or buy a ticket to the Howl-a-Ween Event.

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Sarah Machinak

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Sarah Machinak is a freelance writer and poet in Pittsburgh. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and a BS in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Her poems have been published in Weave Magazine, Caper Literary Journal, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.