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Minga and Hall are the backbone to helping victims in need

Minga and Hall are the backbone to helping victims in need
Minga and Hall are the backbone to helping victims in need | Outback, April Kayser

Administrators Judie Minga and April Hall honor April Kayser who was killed on April 17, 2008. Her husband, Jason Kayser, is currently being held on murder charges without bond in the Weakley County Detention Center.
The landline phone and cell phones that normally ring at almost a constant rate are strangely silent. Nevertheless, the two women in the office who answer them remain on their toes and ready to grab the ringing objects the next time they make a peep. After all, Administrators Judie Minga and April Hall might just find on the other end of the line a person in need of help, in need of a friend or in need of someone to listen if only just for a minute. By offering a helping hand, a kind word or an understanding ear, this duo of Outback Domestic Violence program workers is able to save lives on a daily basis. In 1997, the Outback was created and given a “pilot run.” “We weren’t really expecting it to last long,” Minga admitted, “but as people began to see the need for the program and began to understand its importance in the community, there was no turning back.” The program Minga speaks of is a program offering services to victims of domestic crimes. In the 11 years since its inception, the Outback, as part of the Weakley County Economic Development Council, has seen a great increase in the number of victims it helps even though, at the same time, it has seen a few services cut. “April and I have been able to close gaps with different agencies on a day-to-day basis,” Minga said. “Now, we’re able to provide more to clients.” The program provides services to Weakley, Carroll and Henry counties, but of course, will not turn anyone down. “When someone comes in the office for help, we make the person feel comfortable. We’re not here to judge. We’re here to help in the situation. We want to let the person know that he or she does have a voice. It is important to get their story out there and make the person accountable,” Minga stressed. Posted office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Minga and Hall are far from stopping when the clock strikes four. They stay on call for remaining hours until the next work day. “There’s just two of us and we’re on call 24/7,” Minga explained. “Thank God for our supportive families. The kids are supportive. My husband is supportive. There’s never a question of why we’re doing this. We have very supportive families.” “If my mom wasn’t right there I don’t know what I’d do,” Hall added. “I love my job and she supports me. It makes our job a lot easier and smoother to know that it’s in the hands of family and not someone we don’t know.” The two workers act as a tag team, feeding off each other by communicating well and being unselfish. Without question, they work hand in hand. “We have never taken anything home except for April Kayser’s case,” Minga admitted. “We went to her funeral. That puts our jobs in check. Not until it hits someone’s family does it hit home.” Placed over on one side of the office is a purple wreath containing Kayser’s pictures and underneath the wreath are candles. The memorial stands for Kayser, a victim of a domestic crime who will never live to see another day. Not only does it serve as a sad reminder of what can happen if victims never have a voice, but it also serves as daily motivation for the Outback staff work harder than before to increase awareness. “If we get the awareness out, it will create a decrease in murders. They have to know there is a service out there. There was never a call made to her home. We’re really working with a force out there,” Minga stressed. “Clients that have been lost are never forgotten. This motivates us more to go out into the community and schedule more presentations.” “We’d still like the community to pray for her (Kayser) family,” Hall added. “We took it hard and we cannot even imagine how hard her family took it.” Of course, it angers Minga and Hall when court indictments come down and are barely more than a slap on the wrist for first-time and multiple offenders. “Seeing multiple offenders of DV get off with nothing more than a 12-hour hold is a slap on the wrist,” Minga said. “We want the abuser to be held accountable for the crime. There are laws there, but they are let down. We’re not going to make excuses for that, but there needs to be stricter indictments for first-time and multiple offenders.” Court advocacy is another service offered by the program and is also handled by Wanda Phelps of the district attorney’s office. “We talk to the victim first to see what he or she wants whether it be a restraining order or otherwise and then gives the judge a memorandum of understanding to sign,” Hall explained. While no day can be classified as typical, Minga and Hall come in the office in the morning and go over cases making sure they stay on the same page, handle voicemails and emails and check on information from the coalition in Nashville — a place Minga and Hall go for training to build up knowledge and tools for presentations in speaking engagements. Throughout the rest of the day, they attend to client appointments, obtain orders of protection for the clients, pick up donations and go through court advocacy in which one or both will show up to court. Lunch is a privilege, not a promise and multi-tasking is a must. In Minga’s office is an information bulletin board hanging on the wall filled with brochures and announcements and just below are photo albums containing pictures of success stories as well as tragedies. All along the back and side wall of Hall’s office are grocery store items, clothing items and other items of necessity stacked inside shelves and provided by faith-based organizations and other members of the community. While the phone is not ringing very much on this particular morning, one call does come through and it contains the last information Minga and Hall want to hear. An expected but feared budget cut has gone through and the programs’ funding has just shrank from $95,658 to $74,613. As a result, Hall sits at her computer rewriting the program grant that will now have to stand for three years instead of one. Though it’s a huge blow to take, both Minga and Hall remain strong. They are, after all, having to stand not only for themselves but for many clients. “Some of the services may have to be cut, but we’re standing firm. We’re standing with our clients. We’d rather take a pay cut than see this fail,” Minga emphasized. “Seventy-four thousand sounds like a lot, but with salaries, wages and victims’ services, it does not go far and with the economy so bad now, victims are coming in more and more with stress and uncertainty.” For 2009, the Victims of a Crime Act (VOCA) cap was set at $661 million. In 2007, however, the $625 million cap was reduced to $590 million for 2008. In order for the cap to be returned to $661 million, it will take the efforts of the entire community to make it possible. When the Safeline budget was cut by $25,000 last year, WCEDC director John Bucy made sure the Outback workers saw the headlines to prepare them for impending cuts. “The government has wanted to make the cuts for three years and this is the first budget cut I’ve seen and it’s a significant cut,” Hall said. “My biggest concern is the budget. If it’s cut this much this year, what about next year? It’s hard not to look at tomorrow or next year. Our shelters are hurting.” “Right now is a great time to write letters to the congressmen,” Minga added. “We actually have clients who are writing letters right now.” But while money attempts to reign supreme, the clients are still foremost in the minds of Minga and Hall. Captured in photos are happy faces in parades attempting to spread the message of the Outback. Minga just piloted a new junior volunteer program in 2008 for anyone ages 13 and up. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and plans are currently in the works for an awareness program. The money for this next fiscal year’s budget may be decreasing, but if Minga and Hall have their way, the success stories will continue to increase. “We can’t save everybody, but personally, I’m going to try my best to save everybody who walks through that door whether it be taking them to the shelter, helping them move, paying the first month’s rent so they can move in or providing clothing and furniture,” Hall remarked. “Anything we can do to make their life less stressful. People who don’t walk in their shoes don’t know. People ask why they go back into abusive relationships, but you haven’t walked in their shoes. We’re blessed when clients come in and they’re doing well. We love the stories about a victim becoming a survivor. They come in as a client and leave with two new friends. I don’t see where you can go wrong with that.” To contact Sen. Lamar Alexander regarding the program budget cut, write 455, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510; Federal Building, 109 South Highland St., #B-9, Jackson, TN or 167 North Main St., #1068, Memphis, TN 38103.

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