If ever there was a person who is passionate about what they do, it’s Kim Billings.
Billings is director for both Legal Services and Public Relations at Safe Haven, a domestic violence program serving Bulloch, Candler, Effingham, Jenkins, Screven and Washington counties. Now in her 16th year at the facility, Billings says having a place like Safe Haven is important, no matter where you live.
“I think having a domestic violence organization is vital to any community. I think that it can touch anybody. Domestic violence impacts 1 in 4 women, 1 in 7 men, and 1 in 3 teens. It can happen in anybody’s home. Nobody is immune to it. So I think the more we recognize it, and know it’s out there, and what services are out there, if and when it does happen to us or somebody we know, it’s good to be aware of how we can help,” she said.
Billings came to town to attend Georgia Southern University, fell in love with the Boro, and never left. A proud Double Eagle, she graduated with a degree in criminal justice, and then her master’s in public administration. She didn’t have any idea she’d wind up where she is, but she always knew she wanted to help people, even from a young age.
Safe Haven has two locations: one is a private, secure location where people can go to be safe, and the other is an outreach office, located on North College Street, which is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5 p.m. No appointment is needed and the services are available at no cost, but Billings said there is still a stigma attached to seeking help for domestic violence.
“People think that you have to stay at the shelter to receive services. Most of the people don’t even stay at the shelter. We’re going to offer it if they need help. But most of the people are going to live in town, go to school in town, go to church in town, they’re going to stay right in their own home, and get a protective order, or go to counseling or support groups. They may never even need to spend the night. We can offer the same services whether they stay or not,” she said.
As part of her job, Billings does court accompaniments, helps with protective orders, and acts as a liaison between judges, attorneys and law enforcement. She also leads training programs in the workplace, for law enforcement, and for churches and civic organizations. Additionally, she teaches teens about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.
But one of her favorite tasks is the annual Dancing with the Statesboro Stars fundraiser. The next event will be the 10th one. Billings says she enjoys organizing the event, and that it takes a lot of time to pull together.
Even more so, Billings says she loves the relationships the event creates, and how the participants come to know and understand Safe Haven and support it. Dancers often remain involved long after the competition is over for them.
Billings makes herself available to speak at all the teams’ fundraisers, and is there for whatever they need in their efforts.
“It’s a lot of time and commitment, and if you’re going to dedicate that time for our shelter and our special clients and families and people, the least we can do is be there on this journey. So that’s what I think makes it more special,” she said. “All these people that dance have almost become ambassadors, where they’re educating about domestic violence. That’s why I love this event so much, because it’s a fun way to educate about domestic violence.”
Billings says they have a “fantastic” Dancing with the Stars committee.
“A lot of work goes on behind the scenes that people don’t see. It’s a year-long event. Once it ends in October, we begin immediately planning for the next one. And all between running to court in six counties,” she said, laughing.
But Billings knows that the event is about so much more than just an evening of entertainment.
“Last year, we had several dancers who said, ‘Because of this event, people at my work confided in me that you helped them.’ Or, ‘Now I’m not afraid to tell you this has happened to me.’ Or, ‘Now I know that you don’t have to be covered in bruises to be abused.’ We’ve had people that have danced who were actually in an abusive relationship and didn’t know it,” she said.
Day to day, Billings says her job is never dull, and she loves that it makes a difference in the lives of those they serve, and in the community.
“You just never know who you’re going to touch,” she said, “which is another thing I love about my job, because every time you reach for that phone, you never know who’s going to be on the other end of that line.”
Billings says it’s important for people to know that there is no judgment at Safe Haven.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that we’re not going to judge them. I think that when people have been abused for so long, somebody has made them feel that nobody’s going to believe them or that they’re crazy. It makes me sad that people don’t feel they have a safe place to go to, but they do,” she said.
This is why Billings says “be the umbrella in someone else’s storm.”
“It’s hard when you’re carrying around that weight, or nobody believes you, because that abuser in public is so charismatic and so fabulous. It’s hard. It’s hard to make all those life choices and it feels so overwhelming. I just want people to know they don’t have to do it by themselves,” she said. “I would do anything, and that’s why I’ve been there 16 years. That’s why I like doing the extra. I love it, because you get to see what it’s doing.”
Billings also truly believes that it’s important to be involved in the community and give back.
“I’m so grateful for our community, whether it’s businesses or churches or other groups. I’ve been doing that kind of stuff in our town ever since I’ve lived here. That’s important to me to serve, strengthen and support your town, you know, to give back in any way that you can. It doesn’t have to be money, it could be your time or your services,” she said. “Servant leadership is huge.”
Billings just completed Leadership Bulloch, and calls it a wonderful experience. She is also active in Altrusa and the Statesboro Exchange Club, and is a member of the Class of 2018 of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation.
“Any way that I can give back, I want to,” she said. “It’s just the only way I know how to live. I don’t know any other way to be. I just want to help.”
For more information about Safe Haven, go online at www.safehavestatesboro.org, or call 912-764-4605.
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