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Lynne Tally retires after 41 years at Safe Shelter

She recently retired from Safe Shelter and worked to change attitudes about domestic violence in Jamestown and the state.

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Lynne Tally speaks on June 14 at The Jamestown Sun about her work at Safe Shelter. Tally recently retired as executive director of Safe Shelter.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
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JAMESTOWN – Lynne Tally once needed beds for a woman and her four children who had sought help from Safe Shelter and were moving into an apartment.

Tally, who was the executive director of Safe Shelter, contacted Conlin’s Furniture to ask if they had any beds to spare.

Conlin’s offered two beds that couldn’t be sold because of some damage.

Tally drove there in her father’s small pickup, realizing quickly that it wasn’t large enough to transport them.

“I drove over to (R.M.) Stoudt’s and said, ‘I need a big pickup,’ and they handed me the keys (to one),” she said. “That’s just one of tons of stories in 41 years of me just really relying on other people to help and people very generously answering the call.”

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Tally retired on June 30 after 41 years at Safe Shelter. The former executive director said she feels good about how Safe Shelter evolved from a tiny organization originally seen as “sticking our noses in where it didn’t belong” to one with numerous partnerships to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We started with this very small group that felt pretty isolated,” she said, back in 1981, when the nonprofit was founded with volunteers. They worked with other coalitions and helped each other, she said, creating policies and developing laws with the help of legislators.

Today, Safe Shelter has partnerships that include local, state and national agencies, medical organizations and churches, along with a coalition of 20 programs in the state and hundreds around the country, Tally said.

One of those partnerships is with law enforcement.

Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police, said in an email to The Jamestown Sun that Tally is "a shining example of an advocate for victims of domestic violence and was wonderful to work with. She is going to be missed.”

The beginning of services

Tally intended to be a music teacher but life took a different turn in 1981. That’s when she read a story in The Jamestown Sun about Kathleen McClintock starting an organization here to help victims of domestic violence.

“And I decided I wanted to help, they were looking for volunteers,” she said.

Tally and other volunteers trained for a month and on May 1, 1981, became 24-hour crisis line advocates.

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“We were starting from scratch,” she said. “There weren’t policies, there weren’t procedures, there were very few laws …”

That winter, during the session of the North Dakota Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill that increased the cost of a marriage license, Tally said. Of that fee, $19 went into the Domestic Violence Prevention Fund and was divided equally among all of the domestic violence programs in the state. Safe Shelter received about $11,000, she said.

“That was our budget for the first year,” Tally said.

Tally stepped into the only part-time paid position at Safe Shelter, which later evolved into a full-time one.

“The most important thing for me is to say I didn’t do this on my own,” Tally said. “I had ... a lot of support for the work that I did and people in this community, countless board members, countless volunteers.”

Also as important are those who financially supported the agency and donated items that were needed, she said.

Sarah Hellekson, president of the Safe Shelter Board of Directors, said Tally was a director who lived and breathed Safe Shelter or advocacy for education against domestic violence.

“(She) is one of the people in North Dakota or this region of the United States that has helped form legislation, grants, education and awareness of the issue,” Hellekson said. “And she has been around long enough that a lot of these careers didn’t exist when she started.”

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When the Safe Shelter Board of Directors began looking at finding Tally’s successor, they realized in writing a job description and determining what skills and education were necessary for the position that they couldn’t look at Tally’s resume for that. There wasn’t an educational degree or skill set for the work that Tally did when she started.

“It was interesting to think that she was somebody who determined all of that or built that,” Hellekson said. “And very subtly, I might add. So there’s a lot of admiration in a lot of different fields, in law enforcement, in social services …. in media, for what she has done.”

Tara Muhlhauser is executive director of CAWS North Dakota, which is a coalition of the 20 programs for domestic violence and sexual assault in the state including Safe Shelter. She has known Tally for more than 20 years.

“We would not be in the place we are as a coalition if we didn’t have Lynne working with us,” Muhlhauser said.

She said Tally had a key role during the sessions of the North Dakota Legislature related to the coalition.

“One of the things that for us was so important is having somebody who knows about the legislators and the process so when we needed something, Lynne was always willing to work with the coalition to ask for dollars and opportunities,” Muhlhauser said.

She described Tally as "kind" and said programs in the state would call Tally “because she’s been there for a long time and she is really respected.”

Taking the ‘secret’ public

S.A.F.E. Shelter – Services for Abused Females and Emergency Shelter - was the name of the nonprofit. The name was later changed to Safe Shelter because they recognized it’s not always females who are victims and the nonprofit wanted it to be clear it was a safe place for people, Tally said. Most victims are female, she said.

“We understand that men can be victims of domestic violence but the vast majority of victims that we work with are women, so we try not to use confusing gender-neutral language but we provide the same services for men as we do for women,” she said.

When services were first offered, she said there was little awareness of domestic violence.

“And up until then it was all a big secret and so we started going around talking about it to people and trying not to make it a secret anymore,” she said.

Victims needed to know domestic violence wasn’t OK and didn’t happen in all families, a common misconception for them. The shelter wanted them to know there was a safe place for them, that they didn’t have to continue living in that situation and they had options.

“When I first started doing this work, of course, there were people in the community who said … we made women do things that they didn’t want to do,” Tally said. “We made them leave their husbands or boyfriends. And of course, we did not. We were called homewreckers, troublemakers and lots of words that you can’t print in the newspaper.”

Speaking to the community about domestic violence was about education and trying to change attitudes.

“Because a lot of people believed - men and women both - that whatever happened in your home was your own business,” Tally said. “I heard words like ‘A man’s home is his castle.’ That a marriage license was basically license to do whatever you wanted to do and that women deserved it. Like she must have done something to make him do that. …

“There were two things mostly: That women deserved it and that they liked it. If they didn’t like it, they would have left.”

Tally said Safe Shelter’s message in the beginning for a long time was that no one deserved that and leaving a violent relationship is not an event, it’s a process. Safe Shelter added services for sexual assault victims in 1984.

The number of victims Safe Shelter helped multiplied by “leaps and bounds” in its first 10 years, up to 150 to 175 per year, Tally said.

“For a town this size, that’s a lot,” she said. “But you also have to consider that for every one person who reached out for help, the (U.S.) Department of Justice statistics tells us ... there are probably 10 who don’t, who never do or they find other places to go or they have their own resources …”

She said the number of victims that Safe Shelter works with has declined over the years to about 100 people per year being served. Those victims receive services as long as they are needed, she added.

She said it’s common for people to believe that domestic violence happens in poor families. She said many of the victims that Safe Shelter assists are of lower income but wealthy people who are victims have other resources such as the means to hire an attorney or move.

Safe Shelter's mission, according to its website, is that it is "committed to empowering victims of physical, emotional, and sexual violence by offering information which will allow them to choose their own courses of action and by supporting them as they act on those choices" and educating the public on those issues to collectively change societal attitudes.

Safe Shelter has three paid full-time staff: the executive director (now Shauna Kemp), Dana Mickelson, domestic violence services coordinator, and Mary Thysell, sexual assault services coordinator and prevention coordinator. Forty percent of Safe Shelter’s budget is from local funding through Jamestown United Way, churches, individuals, businesses and service clubs, Tally said. The rest is primarily federal money that is distributed through state agencies, along with some state funding.

New shelter

Mary’s Place at Safe Shelter opened to the public in 2018. It was a project that was not on Tally’s radar.

Mary Newman contacted Tena Lawrence, who was serving on the Safe Shelter board at that time, and said she wanted to help Safe Shelter build a building where women could stay, Tally said.

“We didn’t ask, she came to us,” Tally said. “I get goosebumps still thinking of that.”

Tally was reluctant to take that step, she said, because she didn’t like the idea of victims having a bed in a small space and sharing the communal space with other people in the same situation. While it would be safe, she noted, it might not feel safe emotionally to a victim.

Tally told Newman about the type of project she believed would best serve victims.

“I said I would really like to build a building where we have apartments for people, where they can stay in their own space, their kids have their own space where they can keep all their own toys and all of that, where they can feel safe but they can feel like they are living their lives again, starting to rebuild their lives with some privacy,” Tally said.

Newman agreed.

Fundraising began in 2016. The project broke ground in September 2017. Mary’s Place at Safe Shelter opened on Sept. 1, 2018, with three apartments (two one-bedroom and one two-bedroom). It was full within two weeks.

Prevention

About 10 years ago, Safe Shelter began shifting some of its focus from intervention to prevention, Tally said.

“You can only go so long without trying to deal with why this is happening in the first place instead of always responding to crisis,” she said.

Staff began doing prevention with students in schools, Tally said, speaking about dating violence, what they should expect in a relationship and what they shouldn’t tolerate.

“We never called it prevention,” she said. “We just called it making people aware of the problem and the issues around domestic violence and sexual assault.”

She said she would tell them if there was one thing to take away from what they learned that day it would be that no one deserves to be abused and no one has the right to abuse another person.

“I mean really, how much simpler can you get than that? Because forever we had been thinking that people who get abused deserve it," Tally said.

For more information on Safe Shelter, visit safeshelter.org .

Kathy Steiner has been the editor of The Jamestown Sun since 1995. She graduated from Valley City State College with a bachelor's degree in English and studied mass communications at North Dakota State University, Fargo. She reports on business, government and community topics in the Jamestown area. Reach her at 701-952-8449 or ksteiner@jamestownsun.com.
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