Taking the reins of a shelter for victims of domestic violence is a calling for Cathrine Beaunae, the new executive director of Butte's Safe Space.
The mother of five grown children left her family in sunny San Diego last month to make the move to Butte. But despite the snow and the cold, she has no regrets.
“A calling is a calling,” she said last week. “You go where it is. It feels so even more now that I’m here.”
The role of providing the “face” to Safe Space and the work of keeping the shelter going is close to Beaunae’s heart because she, too, was the victim of domestic violence.
“We were the classic secret family. I thought as a child this happened in everybody’s family,” Beaunae said.
The 67-year-old remembers her dad coming home in the middle of the night after too many drinks only to beat his wife and three children. She called the experience “treacherous” and remarks on how much has changed for those who confront abuse.
“There was nothing like Safe Space back in the day,” she said.
She recounts how her grandparents tried to offer shelter to her mother, but her mother said no. Beaunae was afraid to talk about the problems at home. She’d been taught to keep it quiet.
But children nowadays are more likely to say something. And anybody, including men, can seek shelter and help at Safe Space if they are victims of domestic violence. Beaunae calls it “heartwarming.”
Beaunae holds a doctorate degree in early childhood special education from the University of Florida. She taught at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey, until about a year ago.
But Beaunae has had an unusual career. She was once a beekeeper and a kilt maker. She’s worked as a journalist and in a Hallmark Card store. She didn’t enter into graduate school until she was in her 50s. She was driven to do so, she says, because her then 4-year-old granddaughter had been diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder.
There wasn’t much information out there about her granddaughter’s illness. So she went back to school to do what she could to learn more.
Besides having grit, Beaunae also has experience writing grants. Safe Space board president Dan Murphy said that experience appealed to the board.
Funding to keep the nonprofit running comes from a variety of sources – from $20 individual checks to the recent Women of Montana Tech's annual Purse Strings fundraiser to grants from major donors. But the bulk of how the organization survives comes from grant makers.
“It’s always a question for us, 'Do we have the funding to keep going?'” Murphy said.
Murphy also called Beaunae “imminently qualified."
Beaunae, who replaces interim executive director Tonya Geraghty, calls the work that the advocates do "the real work," but to keep the lights on and the place running, she has her work cut out for her. Last year, Safe Space helped over 550 people and responded on-scene nearly 200 times. Advocates at the shelter answered nearly 2,300 crisis calls.
The shelter gave material and financial assistance to 250 people last year. Beaunae said that could be a tank of gas or a bus ticket to another city.
Murphy said he doesn't have numbers to indicate trends on domestic violence in Butte, but when the shelter moved to a new, larger location in the former Paul Clark Home about two years ago, the shelter continued to fill to capacity in the bigger space.
"We helped as many as we could (in the former shelter); now we have the room to help more people," he said.
But statewide, Montana has made strides in addressing domestic violence. In 2012, the state was listed the second highest in the nation for homicides from domestic violence, according to the Silent Witness Initiative. By 2014, the state was no longer in the top 10.
And as for Beaunae, even though she's starting a new job at a time in her life when most retire, she says retirement "is not in my future plans at all."
"Retirement does not appeal to me," she said.
But what is in her plans is helping survivors from abusive homes.
"I think it's the most amazing thing that we help women who are in crisis," she said.