St. Augustine Woman's Journal - Educational Resource to the Women of St. Johns County Since 2009

How the Betty Griffin 'House' Came to Be

 

June 1, 2019 | View PDF



Next year, the organization now known as Betty Griffin Center will mark 30 years of providing shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in St. Johns County.

For the first two decades, the nonprofit was known as the Betty Griffin House – with the ‘House’ changed to ‘Center’ as the agency re-branded itself in 2016.

One of the main questions staff and board members receive from the public from time to time is “who was

Betty Griffin?”

Betty Griffin lived in Elkton, Florida and passed away many years ago, but it was her home that was donated and sold, with the proceeds of the house used to purchase the county’s first permanent shelter for victims of abuse.

Betty Griffin was the grandmother of Mary Alice Colson, who is still very active as a caregiver working with the county.

Colson was born and raised in nearby Elkton, just west of St. Augustine, and she attended high school in Hastings.

After she graduated, Colson worked in the St. Johns County Sherriff’s Office, at that time located in what is now the Casa Monica Hotel.

“Communications was on one end of the hotel and the courtrooms were upstairs,” she said. “It was the county courthouse back then. I worked on the switchboard, then I worked in records and identification for several years.”

During her first position with the county, Colson worked with Sheriff Dudley Garrett, Sheriff Francis O’Loughlin and Sherriff Neil Perry.

“Sheriff Perry started the victim advocate program, and I was the county’s first in that role,” she said. “I was trained in Tampa, which had the only ones in the state at that time, before we started the victim advocate program here.”

Colson says that with the population increasing, the sheriff and others noted the rise of domestic violence in the county. Colson became the first point of contact from the sheriff’s office to assist a victim of domestic violence.

In her role, Colson could be called by an officer or detective whenever she was needed, 24 hours a day – whether her help was sought to assist a victim on a homicide case, suicide case or domestic violence.

However, when it came to domestic violence cases, finding a safe place for the victim to stay was of immediate concern.

“One of the problems we had then was that there was no place for them (the victims) to go,” she said. “They either went to a local hotel, if there was space and we could get them in there, or they had to travel all the way to Gainesville to go to a shelter. There was not another shelter nearby, even in Jacksonville. Sheriff Perry was all in favor of establishing a permanent shelter here, so we identified attorneys in town, well-known people who had money, and they started coming to meetings that were taking place among many citizens concerned with the issue.”

At around the same time, Colson said she heard her family was planning to tear down her grandmother’s former home

in Elkton.

“My grandmother had already passed away by this time,” Colson said. “So, when I heard they were about to tear it down, I asked my Uncle Kenny Griffin if we could have that house…which was located in front of his home. That’s how the Betty Griffin House started.”

The house was sold and the proceeds from the sale were used to purchase a new house.

The founders of the nonprofit decided to keep the Betty Griffin name associated with the new location.

Colson, who officially retired in 2003 after 26 years, decided to go back to work on a part-time basis. Today, she conducts in-home visits for elderly residents in the county three days a week.

“It’s exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I didn’t want to return as an advocate. Over the years, I had had too much of that…seeing children hurting…it’s hard. This program is ideal for me. I’m a senior as well, and I like it.”

Colson says she feels a lot of pride being connected with what is now the Betty Griffin Center, and she knows her grandmother would feel the same.

“I’ve got a great-grandson, and my granddaughter named him ‘Griffin’ after the family name,” she said. “I wish there was a sign erected at the original site, but I hope to show him where the shelter was at some point. My grandmother had six kids and loved her kids, and the family gave it to us and that’s how it should have been.”

Today, Betty Griffin Center shelters more than 420 victims of domestic and sexual abuse annually.

The nonprofit also operates a 24-hour help line, provides professional counseling for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, offers medical and forensic needs of victims at the rape care unit, provides age-appropriate violence prevention training and operates two thrift stores at Julington Square and Anastasia Square to assist in funding the agency’s ongoing operations.

About THE Betty Griffin Center

The Betty Griffin Center was founded in 1990 by concerned citizens and incorporated as the Safety Shelter of St. Johns County to develop plans to provide shelter for local victims of domestic violence and their children. In 1992, the nonprofit agency contracted with a local motel for space and started a 24-hour crisis line and court advocacy program. By 1994, the agency purchased and opened Betty Griffin House as permanent shelter. The shelter expanded in 1998 to meet local demand, and a sexual assault program was added the same year. Today, Betty Griffin Center shelters more than 420 victims of domestic and sexual abuse annually, operates a 24-hour help line, provides professional counseling for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, provides age-appropriate violence prevention training and operates two thrift stores at Julington Square and Anastasia Square to assist in funding the agency’s ongoing operations.

 
 

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