Mississippi ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to women being murdered by men as a result of domestic violence. For 30 years now, the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Nonviolence has helped abused women and children, and has expanded its outreach programs over the years.
"My nightmare was he was going to come here and kill me and my family, you know. And here, you know, is where you are and you're always protected," said Cyrellia Toney.
Ten years ago, Toney made a life-changing decision. She says after more than 20 years of abuse, she decided to leave her husband.
"I was afraid of my husband and I needed help. When I came here, it just gave me a peace of mind. I was able to sleep for the first time in weeks. They helped me get myself together. It's a safe haven, it really is," Toney said.
Cyrellia and her 14-year-old son stayed at the shelter for 13 months. Over the years, she has turned her pain into her ministry, working as a board member for the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Nonviolence and helping others who have been abused.
The center began as a simple crisis line in 1977. It expanded into a shelter about two years later.
"It's a very comprehensive approach with the services, individual counseling, case management, life skills groups. We provide child care. We also have a therapeutic preschool program for children three to five. We have a sexual assault program," said Sandra Morrison, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Nonviolence.
The center provides service for nearly 3,000 people a year and handles 15,000 calls on its crisis line annually.
As for Cyrellia Toney, she continues to help others escape their abusers, so they too can live without fear.
To mark its 30th anniversary, the center is holding a fundraiser Friday night at the IP Casino Resort and Spa's pool area. There will be a silent auction, live entertainment and our own Rhonda Weidner will be hosting the event.
Saturday, there will be an arts and crafts festival at War Memorial Park in Pass Christian. It begins 10 a.m. Admission is free.