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Dan Ramsey (left) and Gary Hardwick of Art & Sign F/X prepare
Patricia first heard about the Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence eight years ago after her husband threw her down a flight of stairs, nearly killing her.
At first she didn't want to talk about the abuse she'd suffered for most of her 27-year marriage. But during court appearances, she'd shake and be sick to her stomach, so at the urging of a victim's advocate, she agreed to attend an RCDV support group.
"For two months, I just sat there. I said, 'I'm not telling people my business,'" said Patricia, who asked us not to use her last name because her ex-husband is now out of prison. "Then, one day, I started telling my story, and I haven't stopped since."
Thousands of abuse survivors like Patricia have built new lives for themselves with help from the RCDV.
Now the nonprofit, founded in 1978, has a new name that reflects the help it provides: Empowerhouse.
Patricia, who has volunteered with the organization for years, was part of the committee that suggested the new identity.
"As a survivor, I felt like my husband took my power away. I wanted to go to a place to get it back," she said. "I felt like power was something I lacked, something I never thought about losing but I'd lost it--the power to control my life."
CONVEYING THE POSITIVE
The search for a contemporary identity began in earnest last fall when the organization moved from its cramped quarters on U.S. 17 into the former Heartland Bank building at U.S. 1 and Harrison Road in Spotsylvania.
Before putting new signs on the building, a marketing committee wanted to find out how attached supporters were to the name "Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence."
Donors, volunteers, staff members and clients raved about the organization's services, which range from counseling victims and providing emergency shelter to offering court advocacy and intervention programs for abusers.
But they weren't in love with the vaguely bureaucratic name or its acronym. And when the committee approached people who weren't connected with the nonprofit, they found that RCDV didn't have much name recognition.
"When we talked to people, what it came right down to was the name was confusing," said Cathy Davis, a board member and chairwoman of the marketing committee. "We needed a name that conveys all the positive things we do for women, men and children."
Furthermore, "domestic violence" isn't a term the group's clients often use, said Executive Director Kathy Anderson.
"No one calls here and says, 'I'm experiencing domestic violence.' They call and say, 'I know somebody deserves this more than I do, but ' or 'Mine isn't that bad, but ,'" said Anderson. "It takes a while on the phone for it to come out what's really going on."
So a new name was in order, but how to go about finding one? It needed to be something victims would recognize and relate to.
"If our potential clients and existing clients can't find us, there's a chance they could be in imminent danger," said board member Kathleen Harrigan. "We couldn't have any hiccups with that."
'A NAME THAT FEELS GOOD'
Enter graphic designer Byron Glaser.
The president of Zolo, which makes quirky toys and decorative items, attended his first Empty Bowl Fundraiser in January. Ticket-holders enjoy homemade soup and get to keep the bowls, crafted by local potters. And proceeds benefit the nonprofit.
Glaser said hearing from survivors at the event was eye-opening.
"I think domestic violence is not really spoken of. It's like how cancer used to be. So I haven't ever really been focused on the issue," said Glaser. "I was definitely drawn in."
Members of the organization approached him after noticing a colorful ad he'd created in their program for some of the event's sponsors. Glaser agreed to help with the new name and later joined the board.
The group tossed around words like serenity, peace and refuge, but those felt too passive to Glaser. He wanted something that conveyed the inner strength the organization's clients possessed.
He suggested "powerhouse," but committee members weren't sure about that, especially since power is often associated with harm in abusive relationships. But Patricia liked the imagery and convinced the others it was the right direction.
"Power's not a bad thing," she said. "It's a strength women need when they're broken down, the power to come back from where he put you."
The end result was Empowerhouse, which got a thumbs-up from the organization's longtime supporters. The old black-and-white logo is now replaced by a colorful modern one designed by Glaser.
He also created and donated bold yellow-and-orange brochures featuring stories--in English and Spanish--from survivors. Art & Sign F/X of Stafford donated the sleek new signs for Empowerhouse's office.
The nonprofit's goal was always to empower survivors of abuse, said Anderson. Now its name reflects that.
"We're so excited to have a name that feels good," she said. "To have a little bit of beauty in the midst of it all and for survivors to see beautiful pieces with their stories on them, it gives people a boost."
Patricia said she hopes the organization's new identity and striking literature inspire people to talk about domestic violence--and encourage survivors like her to seek help when they need it.
"Empowerhouse is a cool name, and it means so much to so many people," said Patricia, who urges people to take action if they think someone is being abused. "You need to say, 'Do you need help? I can help you. I know a place you can go.' I think women will feel good coming in the door."
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
Empowerhouse, formerly known as the Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence, provides free, confidential services--including housing assistance, emergency shelter, counseling and court advocacy--to victims in Fredericksburg, Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.
The organization operates a 24-hour hotline at 540/373-9373 or toll-free at 877/734-7238.
For more information, visit
General admission tickets cost $25, and for $100, sponsors can get a reserved seat and a shout-out in the program.
Tickets are available at Read All Over and at Riverby Books, 805 Caroline St.; LibertyTown, 916 Liberty St.; and Empowerhouse, 4700 Harrison Road. For more information, call Empowerhouse at 540/373-9372.