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Harmony House to hold domestic violence candlelight vigil

In its 15th year of operation, local nonprofit Harmony House is once again holding its annual candlelight vigil for domestic violence. The vigil is its first major public event since the pandemic started. Harmony House was not able to have its annual West Point Dragon Boat Race fundraiser this past summer due to COVID-19. 

As a precursor to the vigil, on Thursday Harmony House is decorating T-shirts that will be displayed at the vigil. That’s part of The Clothesline Project, a program which is “a visual display of violence statistics that often go ignored,” according to its website.

The T-shirt decoration will be at the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce plaza from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Michele Bedingfield, executive director of Harmony House, said the vigil has three purposes.

“It’s a time to remember those that have lost their lives due to domestic violence. But it’s also a time to celebrate those that have been in abusive relationships before and were able to escape,” Bedingfield said. “It also is a moment that where we could encourage others that might still be in it, that just haven’t found a way to leave yet.”

Guest speaker Jerome Cofield will be sharing a personal story about watching a family member go through a violent relationship. 

Since the pandemic started, Harmony House has continued to work with survivors. Bedingfield said they have spent more than $16,000 to house people that needed to get out of abusive situations through short-term rentals, hotels and apartments.

The organization is on pace to have more crisis calls this year. Harmony House has had 864 crisis calls in 2020. In all of 2019, there were 919 total calls. Not all calls are people in immediate danger, Bedingfield said. Some just want to make a plan to exit an abusive situation safely. 

“We’ve also seen a huge increase in our temporary protective orders,” Bedingfield said. 

On the fundraising side, Bedingfield said Callaway Foundation and United Way have invited nonprofits in town to be part of a “Binding My Community” project. In the past, the organization’s biggest event of the year, the dragon boat race, has raised more than $40,000 alone. In lieu of the dragon boat race, the organization sold T-shirts, raising just over $1,000. The T-shirts are still available for purchase.

“I think all businesses and nonprofits are having to learn to do things differently,” Bedingfield said. “And we’re having to learn that the live public events might not be the best way to keep everybody safe, which will be our first priority. But just finding new and alternate ways to raise funds.”

Individuals in the community have also reached out to Harmony House to hold smaller fundraisers to assist them during this time. Smokin Mo’s Barbecue is selling Boston Butts for $35 a piece to benefit Harmony House, and Harry’s Bonding is auctioning off a handmade fishing rod for the organization. Harry’s Bonding will match the winning bid for the pole.

“Individuals wanting to do small fundraisers like that, we are so appreciative of,” Bedingfield said. “We are extremely thankful to our community that has supported us for 15 years.”