JEFFERSON — People Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse of Jefferson County (PADA) has shut its doors after 41 years helping and advocating for victims of abuse in the area.
During the past year, the organization lost funding from the state and county, but continued to limp along. The final nail in the coffin came when PADA lost grant funding from United Way of Jefferson and North Walworth Counties.
“PADA has operated with a fierce passion to fight against domestic and sexual abuse for 41 years,” a post on the organization’s Facebook page reads. “It is with great sadness we announce we have ceased operations. We no longer have a county-based domestic and sexual abuse agency.”
Megan Hartwick, United Way executive director, said that while it was not easy to decide to cut funding to PADA, the hard truth is that United Way only has so much grant money to give and it has to go to the organizations with the most capacity to help people.
Hartwick added that the leadership problems PADA was having contributed to the decision to lower — and eventually cut — grant funding because it was unclear what would happen to the organization.
Past mismanagement prompted rumors about the agency’s future and the county stopped providing funding. The nonprofit organization’s previous executive director had failed to send financial reports on how grant money is used to the state government, final PADA Executive Director Lisa Berndsen said in July.
Because of those missing reports and a now-withdrawn vote by the organization’s board to close the support center, government funding from the Wisconsin Departments of Children and Families and Justice was pulled and misinformation spread.
Hartwick said that even though she was sympathetic to the previous leadership — problems that were out of PADA’s control, in addition to the lost government funding — PADA missed several deadlines for grant applications
“Our board just did not feel comfortable awarding any sort of high-level grant to the organization. Certainly from our perspective, (it was) mostly because one of the biggest things we pride ourselves on is our stewardship of our donors’ dollars,” Hartwick said. “We’re looking at program outcomes, we’re looking at who’s being served and we tell them we are absolutely allocating your dollars locally and in the most effective, efficient way possible. We didn’t feel that we could continue to spread that message if we weren’t making some big changes when we saw some pretty glaring and pretty concerning things.”
Hartwick said she understands how painful it can be for a community institution such as PADA to be gone in the blink of an eye, but she feels United Way’s $25,000 grant is best used going to the new organizations.
“It’s really unfortunate that it can take so many years to build up something like this and to build that trust and build that credibility and build those successes and then it can take a very short period of time for those things to go away,” Hartwick said. “At least there are services that are available because we could be in a situation where now there is simply nothing.”
The services previously provided by PADA are now being split by PAVE in Watertown and APFV New Beginnings in Whitewater. The two organizations have divided the county into north and south with State Highway 106 serving as the dividing line.
The funding from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Department of Justice, Jefferson County and United Way has been divided between PAVE and New Beginnings to continue services for abuse survivors in the area.
In July, PADA leadership said this agreement to split the county in two between PAVE and New Beginnings would cause some difficulties. With the two new organizations now serving the county for more than a year, the transition continues to be made.
PAVE Executive Director Ashley Welak said in an email that her organization has been able to fill in the space PADA left without any major concerns.
“We have served many of victims and we have not heard of anything negative at this point,” Welak said. “Transportation is an issue throughout the state in rural communities such as ours. We will continue to see this no matter where our office is located until we have more public transportation resources available; we see this in Dodge County, as well. To try to help with the transportation issue, PAVE staff can travel to different cities to meet victims in a public place and/or at the courthouse to help them with whatever they may need.”
New Beginnings director Heidi Lloyd said the organization’s board is looking into a way it can take over PADA’s former building, allowing the group to have a location in Jefferson. A Jefferson location puts the group at the center of the county and gives easy access to the services provided at the county courthouse and human services department.
“What we’re going through is figuring out if we can make it happen,” Lloyd said. “I want to provide the best possible services in Jefferson County, but we need to figure out building ownership. We go over to Jefferson three times a week. Would it be more convenient to have an office there? Absolutely.”
While the goal is to occupy this space, Lloyd said there still are details to be worked out and nothing is set in stone. She said a committee will work out some of those details before it gets sent to the organization’s board at its Dec. 17 meeting.
“There are a lot of players in discussion about what can we do to still try to keep some of those services localized so that there wouldn’t necessarily be a full office in Jefferson, but what can we do to still have some presence there just to keep a little bit more centralized focus,”” Hartwick said.
Jefferson County Human Services Director Kathi Cauley was unavailable for comment on the future of the PADA building or services in the county at presstime.