072017 Family Justice Center: Co-director steps down for sabbatical
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Family Justice Center: Co-director steps down for sabbatical

By Parsons Rieker
Coastal Observer

Beverly Kennedy has worked a variety of jobs since she was 16 years old, but after stepping down from her position as co-executive director of the Family Justice Center in Georgetown at age 75, she may be making one of her biggest career changes yet: taking a sabbatical.

For the past five years, Kennedy has served as co-executive director of the Family Justice Center with Vicki Bourus. Now, after the death of her husband David in March, Kennedy is moving back to New England.

“This time I said ‘I am not going to say I’m retiring because every time I say I’m retiring, I go back to work,’” Kennedy said. “So what I’m going to do is I’m going on sabbatical.”

Kennedy said she looked up the definition of sabbatical and realized that it involves taking time off of work to do something new. Kennedy has never not worked, and so, she is taking a sabbatical.

Kennedy grew up near downtown Pittsburgh and attended Penn State. While working as the director of sales for Playboy, two of her best friends were shot and killed. Kennedy decided she wanted to work as a police officer in Boston, but the police department would not give her an application because she was a woman. So, she sued the city.

“It took two years, but women now can be police officers all over the country,” Kennedy said. While Kennedy worked in Boston, there were 11 women working in the police department.

After a year with the police department, Kennedy decided to go to law school and worked to get her law degree from Suffolk University Law School through night classes. It took her four years. She remained with the police department for about four more years then left to practice law. She did some public defender work, but eventually found herself working in the field of domestic violence. Kennedy still has her license to practice law in Massachusetts.

From Boston, she and her husband began to consider moving south, shortly after her husband’s retirement from sergeant detective in the Boston police force. A colleague called her with information about a job in North Carolina, and after a few months, Kennedy ended up taking the job. She served as the Executive Director of Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County in Chapel Hill.

Eventually, Kennedy and her husband moved to Murrells Inlet, while she commuted to Chapel Hill Monday through Thursday until her contract was finished.

“And then I said I was going to retire,” Kennedy said. “And I almost got away with it.”

She and her husband attended a Taste of Georgetown fundraiser for the Family Justice Center. She decided she would volunteer, but the center was looking for an executive director. Eventually, Kennedy and Bourus, both who was also retired, agreed to share the position.

The concept of a family justice center is to provide all the tools necessary for women and children dealing with situations of domestic violence. Residents of Georgetown started Family Justice Center in 2007. It partners with law enforcement and other organizations such as Access Health Georgetown, Rape Crisis Center and Waccamaw Center for Mental Health to provide legal services, counseling, support groups, childcare, parenting classes and other services to victims of abuse. It also provides a shelter for women and children. All services are free and confidential and their hotline is available 24/7.

Family Justice Center provides resources for anything a family might need, such as clothing or money for gasoline. It recently hired a children’s counselor. “One of the problems of domestic violence is that we’ve always worked at it from the top down: get the victim, work with the victim, and help the victim, ignoring the fact that children who witness domestic violence suffer extreme trauma and many grow up being either victims or abusers themselves,” Kennedy said.

On Wednesday, Family Justice Center held a ground-breaking ceremony for a new facility in Georgetown. The expanded space will help it meet an increasing demand for services.

One of the programs that Kennedy loved most at Family Justice Center is the children’s summer camp, which began in 2013. Family Justice Center has sent 22 children to 10 weeks of day camp offered by other organizations around Georgetown County for the past four summers, and Kennedy said the children love it.

“It’s a wonderful way for children to be normal children for a summer,” Kennedy said. “They go and nobody they go to camp with knows where they came from, and they’re just campers with everyone else.”

Family Justice Center’s summer camp program has been so successful that it has become part of a national model for family justice centers.

Kennedy said that getting services to the Andrews area was also rewarding, because previously there were no services to help women with domestic violence and abuse there. Family Justice Center opened a resale boutique and tea room in Andrews last summer.

While domestic violence has traditionally been considered a private matter, Kennedy said that it is important to realize that it is not a private matter.

“I used to train law enforcement for domestic violence, and I would say, ‘if you’re sitting in your living room and you look outside, and you saw a man punch a woman, or push her, what would you do?’” Kennedy said. “They’d say, ‘I’d call the cops.’ I’d say, ‘OK, what if you’re walking by and you looked into someone’s house and you saw the same, what would you do?’ They’d say, ‘nothing, that’s a private matter.’ But, it’s the same thing.”

For the past five years, Kennedy and Vicki Bourus have served as co-executive directors. Now that Kennedy is leaving, Bourus will serve full time as executive director.

Kennedy said that she and Bourus have grown close. “She and I met as strangers, became colleagues and have turned into friends and sisters,” Kennedy said.

Bourus echoed Kennedy’s sentiments. “It’s wonderful to be able to share a job like this with someone like her,” Bourus said.

Bourus said they have different skill sets. Kennedy “is very competent in administrative abilities,” Bourus said. “She cares about her clients. She has a talent for future vision and is constantly looking forward. She asks, ‘how might we do better?’”

While sometimes co-directors do not get along or are competitive, Kennedy said that she and Bourus had no reason to compete, and that made their job easier.

“Three out of the four days we may be together, we’ll probably be wearing the same color dress or pants,” Kennedy said. “And we never talk to each other about it, so it’s just a joke.”

Kennedy also said they were so successful at Family Justice Center because of the board of directors. “I’ve worked for a lot of boards and so has Vicki, and this one is just a fabulous group of people,” Kennedy said. “They really care. They work. They get their feet in the mud.”

While Kennedy will be missed for a variety of reasons, Bourus said that she will miss Kennedy’s ability to bring joy and laughter into a difficult line of work.

“She never lost her sense of humor,” Bourus said. “She never fails to make us laugh with a one-liner that no one else would think of.”

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