Throughout the recent United Way of Story County (UWSC) LIVE UNITED campaign, this column is highlighting different programs in the community impact areas of education, income and health to give readers an idea of the work being done locally.

In the area of health, UWSC invests in support programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through the Assault Care Center (ACCESS). Each year, ACCESS serves approximately 400 victims from Story County through crisis response, shelter, counseling and advocacy services. In addition, more than 3,500 Story County residents are provided with education services.

Angie Schreck, executive director of ACCESS, says victims have symptoms of trauma that can impact their health. "Intrusive memories often interfere with an ability to sleep, or can lead victims to want to block these memories through use of substances," Schreck explains. "Victims who have had their body manipulated or harmed in the course of abuse, like in the case of sexual abuse, may feel compelled to ignore their health in an effort to disconnect from the abuse by rejecting their body."

ACCESS strives to help victims understand the link between trauma and their physical and psychological health. "In this process, we encourage victims to take advantage of any opportunities for healing, including therapy services from community providers. We also offer our own counseling services, support groups and an art program, where survivors express their experience through creativity. Survivors of violence have many opportunities to grow when they are connected to support and encouraged to examine their own strength," says Schreck.

In the past year ACCESS has experienced significant changes. The distribution of federal and state funds for victim services, administered through the Attorney General’s Office, was restructured, and regions were established. Story County services are now part of a 20-county region. The implication of this restructuring and decrease in funding meant that ACCESS and other providers in the region had to make some difficult decisions about which programs would continue. Providers in the region agreed that ACCESS would continue to seek state and federal funds for outreach services and to leave state-/federally-funded shelter services funds available to another provider in this region. UWSC, along with Story County and the city of Ames, made it possible for the ACCESS shelter in Ames to continue operating with only local support.

"ACCESS wants to thank United Way, and community members who contribute to United Way, for the ongoing essential support to victim services," said Schreck. "United Way funds serve as our safety net."

Schreck said the money helps to offer a wide range of services to Story County residents. The shelter and crisis intervention services are both offered on a 24/7 basis, and there is no option to partially fund these services when fluctuations occur in federal or state funding, or when donations to the shelter may decrease.

"ACCESS needs to ensure that we have proper staffing at any time in our shelter facility or to respond in the community to immediate needs," Schreck says. "United Way funds our staffing, but also funds operations for our shelter, travel costs to help ensure that we can meet Story County residents in a safe and secure location, and the ability to go beyond essential crisis services to support innovative projects, volunteer management and community education."

United Way of Story County is a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community.

(Sara Wilson is marketing director for the United Way of Story County.)