When the Family Crisis Center in Great Bend opened an outreach center in Pratt’s 54 Plaza in 2007 Executive Laura Patzner told the County Commission if they would give their support, the goal was for the center to grow.

It’s been a long time coming, Patzner said at a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting Tuesday for their new facility at 400 S. Main. The Crisis Center now has more space, they’re more accessible to clientele and in the near future, they will become more visible in the community. Two advocates, Lori Shirley and Bethany Magnison, staff the Pratt office and a third will be hired soon.

There is some misconception about what they do, Patzner said, with many assuming the goal is to get women and their children out of abusive homes and into a shelter in Great Bend. The shelter is important and has remained full for the past three years, but it’s a small part of their role. More often, they provide services to clients in their own community, where they work, have children in school and family and friends as a support network.

Sometimes people why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship.

She may feel she has no other options, Patzner said, describing a woman with three children who suffered emotional abuse daily and physical abuse about once a month. The alternative is to not have a place for her kids to live and to not know where the next meal is coming from.

“She stays to take care of her kids,” Patzner said.

Crisis Center staff can help with short-term resources, help her develop a safety plan during an explosive incident or if she decides to leave and provide emotional support.

The Family Crisis Center serves about 800 clients a year in a 10-county area. The Pratt outreach center, which also covers Barber, Comanche and Kiowa counties, serves around 200, mostly in Pratt County. The number served, however, does not come close to the number of people who are the victims of domestic and sexual violence.

One of the big jobs, Patzner said, is to help the community understand its role in keeping people safe.

The saying, “if you see something, say something,” applies. Physical marks are easy to see, but there are more subtle signs, such as a person who does not have access to her finances, or who is reluctant to answer questions when a significant other is present.

Trust your intuitions, Patzner said.

People are afraid to engage, and she understands that, but it’s better to do something or say something than to look back after a crisis occurs and wonder if you could have helped.

In her 25-year career, Patzner has had some strong mentors. One bit of advice makes more sense now than when she first heard it: “When we intervene with something small — a shout or a push — we’re preventing murder.”

She suggested some actions, such as going to the person in private and offering support, or reporting incidents to law enforcement. People need to know they have a neighbor, a co-worker or an employer who can help, she said.

Prevention of violence will be a major emphasis in the coming months, using Primary Prevention material from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The course addresses the culture we live in — a society that has become very violent, according to Patzner — mentioning movies, games and language.

When dads at the ball field chastise their sons for “throwing like a girl,” or admonish them against “crying like a girl,” it sends a message that girls are second class.

“Primary prevention is about understanding the messages we send to kids and making changes to be more inclusive,” Patzner said. “I think we’ve made great strides, but we have a long way to go.”

Prevention is not telling women to keep their keys in their hand to be ready to gouge an attacker or warning them to always walk with a friend and to not go out late at night. That message is that a woman has an opportunity to stop the abuse and doesn’t, not that the abuser must be held accountable.

Also on the agenda for the newly-expanded center will be to develop a volunteer base in Pratt and surrounding counties and to hold educational and awareness events. Staff members are available to speak to civic or other groups to help get the word out about who they are and what they do. Contact the Pratt office at 672-7435 or the Great Bend office at 620-793-9941.

The new office, an outreach center in Larned and staff expansion across the region have been made possible by a federal Victims of Crime Act grant administered through the governor’s grant program.