Humble beginnings: JMFSC


“The secret to success is to find a need and fill it.” — Norman Vincent Peale

Almost 40 years ago a group of women in Huron were driven to action by a domestic violence counselor talking about her efforts to help students in abusive relationships at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

It was the spring of 1983 — a time when no one spoke openly about such things as domestic violence.

“The YWCA had a spring luncheon and invited Mary Helen Hopponen from Brookings to speak,” said Jan Manolis, director of the Jan Manolis Family Safe Center.  

“She did not have a shelter, but she was counseling students and she was taking victims home with her,” Manolis said. “She told us there was domestic abuse in South Dakota and knew we had it in Huron.

“But people don’t like to believe that,” she added. “They like to believe there isn’t any. If you don’t talk about it, it isn’t there.”

Manolis said they first conducted a survey through the Plainsman, asking if readers thought people in this area needed the services a domestic violence program could provide.

“We got back really good results,” she said. There were comments like “my daughter is going through this and her granddaughter is living with an abuser.”

Manolis, along with YWCA director Lynn Green, Norma Mees and Darlene Kutzler, began researching domestic violence programs that had been organized in other states.

“We drove to visit different programs and listened to what they do, watched what they do, asked questions,” she said. “Finally, one of them told us we need to take a step out in faith; you can’t answer all the questions until you deal with them.”

In 1984, the Domestic Abuse Shelter began its operation with the YWCA, which sponsored the program at that time.

“We sheltered people in motels,” Manolis said. “We didn’t have any grants. We didn’t have any funding. We didn’t have any paid staff. We just started.”

Manolis said they expected many of their calls to come in the middle of the night, but very frequently, it’s been during the day. “The abuser may go to work and the wife will call,” she said. “When men are abused, we put them in motels.

“The average number of times a woman leaves an abuser before she’ll leave and stay away is seven,” she added. “We’re here to help them. It’s always been rewarding; it’s exciting to see them become victors instead of victims.”

From the beginning, the support and donations they’ve received from the community have helped keep the program afloat, Manolis said.  You never know if funding and grants will be available or if amounts will be cut.

The Kiwanis Club helped them purchase their first shelter, telling them that if they could raise the down payment on a house to use as a shelter, they would pay the mortgage. “We did that; and the Kiwanis Club retired that mortgage 20 years later,” she said.

In 2009, Jan and her advocates took another  step out in faith to keep the domestic violence outreach operating, and the community rallied behind them, Manolis said. At that time, they became the Jan Manolis Family Safe Center.

“Barb Cook, who was director of Huron Housing Authority, rented a house to us for $1 a year, Manolis said. “We were there for a year and then The Wilk family donated a house to be used as an office and shelter. ”

In 2011, Dr. Michael and Mary Fuchs gave us a house, which we moved onto our property. “Our office is in the house the Wilks gave us, the shelter is in the house the Fuchs family donated,” Manolis said.

The shelter has six bedrooms, providing space to shelter six families. On occasions when the shelter is at capacity, they will use motels to care for families.

Manolis said they provide everything needed to help the victims sheltering with them – which means that on-going donations such as paper products, diapers of all sizes, toiletries, light bulbs, batteries, sheets, and grocery store gift cards are always welcome.

“We’ve been very, very blessed,” Manolis added.

Manolis’s daughter, Cindy Wilk, said she joined her mother by volunteering as an advocate. Today, she is one of 10 advocates who work with victims of abuse. They carry cell phones so they are available for hotline calls 24/7.

Emergency hotline numbers are 605-350-6663 and 605-350-6690.

“Mom’s been carrying a hotline phone for 39 years,” Wilk said. “And she still goes on calls.”

They provide shelter, food, counseling, transportation, assistance with housing searches, work applications and protection orders. They take referrals from law enforcement, churches, social services, mental health personnel, medical providers, neighbors and of course, from victims themselves.

“Each person we serve is unique and we will strive to offer help for anything the survivor needs,” Manolis said. “The support from our community and the surrounding area make our program possible. Our funding comes from grants and the fundraising we do yearly.”

Their advocates help with fundraising and help with services to victims.

Manolis add they are thankful for the caring nine-member board of directors they work with.

“We are thankful for all the support from friends of our program,” Manolis said. “God bless you all and we thank you with grateful hearts.”

Monetary donations are always welcome and can be sent to JMFSC, PO Box 733, Huron, S.D. 57350.