A SPARCC of hope for Sarasota

A buzzer grants entrance to Safe Place & Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC). This haven is in an unlikely location at 2139 Main St., in the heart of Sarasota’s business district. High ceilings, dark-tiled floors and a chandelier in one waiting area resemble the appointments of a high-end jewelry shop.

SPARCC was born in in 1979 during a nationwide process to create rape crisis centers and hotlines. Its role as rape crisis center evolved to also help victims of domestic violence.

The center operates a 24-hour crisis hotline that offers intervention and safety planning. Advocates meet in person with victims to not only help them cope with their trauma but also offer legal referrals and other resources.

“People going through trauma often feel very isolated and alone, so it’s very important for them to find a place that is confidential and that is free [where] they can connect with somebody about what they are going through,” New College and SPARCC victim advocate Concetta Hollinger said.

Victim advocates come from a variety of backgrounds. “Some people are grass-roots activists who’ve been in the business since it started, others are survivors who’ve found their way here after their own traumas and other people have more professional set backgrounds like sociology, criminology and social work that train them specifically towards this sort of work,” she said.

“One of the really nice things about this agency is its orientation of being a female-empowerment-based agency,” Hollinger added. “We are able to support one another in our processes even though we are coming from different programs. It’s nice to have a cohesiveness of support.”

Hollinger pointed to the importance of this support. “For myself, I am a one-person program, so I have to debrief with other people in the building when I have tough clients or very emotional sessions,” she said. “It’s important to have that time to debrief — it’s nice to be able to have that exchange even though we are really working on two different ends [domestic violence and sexual violence].”

An off-site shelter in an undisclosed location in Sarasota County provides victims with a safe haven from their attackers.

SPARCC also operates a thrift store, the Treasure Chest, at 1426 Fruitville Road.

“The Treasure Chest has a twofold service for us,” Hollinger said. “One is that it is a consignment shop so it is a small source of revenue funding for us. We also have vouchers for our survivors to go there and get whatever supplies they need. So if I have a person who needs clothing or who has just moved from her place because it is not safe — they need new furniture or new bedding or things like that — I can write up a note to take over there and they can utilize that to get what they need.”

Hollinger noted that the buzzer plays an important role. “At the front of the building there is a buzzer with locked doors, so you can’t just open it from the outside,” she said. “That way we can screen people if we need to. Particularly, if we have males looking very frantic or if they are asking questions about specific clients, we can screen them through the door before we let them in. We want to maintain our client’s respect and safety.

“Our role is not to fix things or to rescue people in any kind of arena,” Hollinger said.  “Our role is to be able to help empower people to know that they have the strength and the ability to make their own decisions, to find their own power and to be able to work through the trauma that they are going through.”

SPARCC’s 24 hour crisis hotline: (941)365-1976

New College’s Victim Advocate: (941)504-8599

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