Dozens of people gathered in Ocean Springs Wednesday night to celebrate the life and career of one of the most outspoken advocates for women's and children's safety, Jane Philo.
Philo has headed the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Non-Violence since 1983. At the end of this month, she'll step down from her post.
Ten years ago, Jane Philo stood on an empty lot that would become the new Gulf Coast Women's Center for Non-Violence. The center opened in 1996.
"That's been our greatest achievement because we had to relocate. We did not build the building just because it was needed. We built it because we had to build it. And it took a tremendous community effort to do that. By working together, we got it accomplished," Philo said.
Philo's 21-years with the center has been filled with memorable experiences, and some very tough challenges.
"To keep our programs going, to keep our staff on board, grants have to be written, funding has to be obtained. So, as an administrator, that's the hardest challenge that we face. Certainly as a program director, the hardest challenge is getting the message out, getting women in who need our help, and then preventing other women from getting into this situation by working when they're young."
Still, Philo says domestic violence is a growing problem. She credits legislation like 1995's Mandatory Arrest Law with putting more offenders behind bars.
"We see lots more arrests. In the courts where our court advocates are, we're probably recording 4,000 every single year. And of course, that's not all of the courts within our 6-county service area, so there are a lot of cases coming to court, not all of them are convicted, and that's unfortunate."
Philo leaves her job June 30th, but says she will forever be an advocate for keeping women safe. Catherine Dumal will take over as the center's director on July 1st.