For the last 35 years, a battered women’s shelter has been quietly changing the lives of hundreds of domestic violence victims in the Bartow County community. The Tranquility House rests in an undisclosed location for the safety of their residents, but the organization desperately wants the community to know who they are and what services they provide for those in need of help when experiencing domestic violence.

To help raise funds and awareness, Harbin Clinic has partnered with the Tranquility House and will sponsor Jingle Jog 2019. This 5K race will feature something for everyone. The parents can run in the 5K and this year there will be what the organization is calling a Holiday Hustle where people can walk the distance of the race.

There will also be a Dasher Dash for children under five where they will have the chance to chase a little reindeer. The theme this year is Winter Wonderland, so be sure to dress in your favorite festive attire because all attendees will be eligible for a costume contest. Local vendors will be on hand to showcase their products. And Santa will make an appearance with reindeer from Pettit Creek Farms. 

It is easy to say “no, thank you” to a 5K but before you put away your running shoes for the season, but here is some information about the organization that Jingle Jog supports that may help you to lace up just one more time this year.

We took some time to sit down with Zanett Ellington, Community Relations Director, and Teresa Millsaps, Executive Director of the shelter, to discuss what Tranquility House does to aid those in Bartow County.

Ellington gives an overview of the shelter by explaining, “We are a domestic violence shelter. Our organization was founded in 1984 to assist victims of domestic violence. Our facility houses 17 beds but we can house up to 20 or 21 depending on the age of the children and if they can sleep in a pack-n-play or a toddler bed.”

Domestic violence doesn’t just affect women and children; men also need access to resources. Ellington continues, “We only house women here but we do assist men. Men’s needs are a lot different, so we aren’t going to have them here, but we provide the same services that we would provide a woman. First and foremost, we are going to try and ensure that our women and children are safe, and then we find out what they need.”

 The needs of domestic violence victims range from counseling and security to legal and medical help. Tranquility House has numerous resources in place to aid in the needs of the victims.

“If they need legal help,” Ellington says, “we have three legal advocates and they are currently located at the magistrate building. They assist with temporary protective orders and stalking orders. Every time court is in session, someone is at bond hearings. So, if the person was involved in a family violence situation, there is someone available to help them navigate through the process; they attend domestic violence court. We want to be sure that our legal presence is available to those in need. They are not attorneys, so if what is needed is  beyond what they can assist with, our staff will refer them to Georgia Legal Services or a local attorney.”

The legal battle can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming, and Tranquility House advocates know this all too well.

Millsaps knows that getting the conversation started is really the only way to bring the issue to light. “We really want to get those conversations going among our teenagers because it may be that they are in a violent relationship because that’s what they’ve seen growing up,” she continues. “They think it’s normal relationship behavior,  and we want to identify what is normal and what is not. We have a teen text line so they can text our teen advocate at any time and they will talk to them through text.” 

Teen dating violence has become such an issue that February has now been named Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Tranquility House is working diligently to inform parents and teens on teen dating violence in order to prevent it from continuing.

Ellington recognizes what one of the biggest obstacles they have is that people just will not discuss domestic violence because it is uncomfortable.

“Unfortunately,” Ellington adds,  “discussion about domestic violence has such a negative stigma. We are constantly searching for ways to get our information out and how to raise awareness of these issues. We have been here for 35 years and we still have people who say that they didn’t know that we were here. We are always trying to make sure that people understand who we are and that we aren’t blaming the victim for the situation that they are in.”

Domestic violence is not just physical and that is why it can be so difficult for those who have not experienced an abusive relationship and understand the toll it can take. Abusers crush self esteem and use money and children to control their victims. Looking from the outside in, it can be easy to miss. Tranquility House strives to bring these signs to the attention of the community to help them identify someone who may be in trouble, and give the victims a place to get the help they need to start over and heal.

Looking forward, Tranquility House needs to expand their facilities to better help their community.

“When people think about domestic violence,” Millsps says, “they think about a shelter. They assume that all victims go to a shelter, but that’s not true. A small percentage of victims go to a shelter. So, we work to be able to provide our resources beyond a shelter. We have to be able to meet with survivors in a community setting. We also need to be able to provide case management and support to victims who need to talk about the domestic violence. They may not need the shelter, but they need the support. One of our visions is to be able to move our administrative offices out of our shelter and into the community. Then, people can come in and receive the services of our shelter, just without the shelter itself.”

The shelter can only house 23 people max, and the facility stays at capacity constantly. Tranquility House has to turn away 50 to 60 families a month.

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This is heartbreaking but a reality. Ellington says, “We are one of 46 state certified facilities. We are staying full and we are considered a smaller facility. Our sister programs are at capacity, as well. However, if a Bartow County resident is in imminent danger, we don’t have the space for them and we can’t find a sister program to assist them, then we are going to find alternative lodging for them.”

Again, lodging is only a small part of what they do. With a new community facility they would be able to reach more victims and offer more resources.

 Despite the secret location, they are always looking to get the community involved, and there are needs that can only be met by the support of the community. Ellington asks that the people of Bartow, “just continue to bring about awareness. We are here and we still need their support and their advocacy. The one thing about Bartow County is that this community is very supportive. We get a large portion of our funding from state and federal grants and Teresa is always trying to find additional grants. But our donations from the community are unbelievable. A lot of local businesses, local individuals and churches support us and we really can never get enough of that support.”

Along with the Jingle Jog, they have a few more events each year including a golf tournament and a candlelight vigil. However, the goal of the Jingle Jog is to get the entire family involved, not just individuals. Ellington says, “The thing about the Jingle Jog is that it was gifted to us. Harbin is our presenting sponsor this year but that is not how it started. When the Jingle Jog started, the organization that the race benefitted was Small Bridges, an adoption agency. The founder of that organization moved out of state, and there wasn’t a successor to take over, so the committee was looking for another organization to gift it to and they selected us. This is our second year being the recipient of the fundraiser.

For us, it is an opportunity for us to bring more awareness to our organization and reach the community in a different capacity.” The partnership with Harbin also has a significant impact. Millsaps explains, “We know that domestic violence has such an impact on the victims’ health. So, by partnering with Harbin Clinic, we are also promoting that message of family and of healthiness.”

If you’re looking for an event for the whole family this holiday season and you want to support an organization that is doing wonderful things in your community, join the teams at Harbin Clinic and Tranquility House at Sam Smith Park in Cartersville on December 7, 2019 for the Jingle Jog. Information can be found on the Harbin Clinic Jingle Jog Facebook Page and you can register for the 5K at http://bit.ly/HarbinJingleJog.

Don’t miss an opportunity to help your community in the fight against domestic violence.

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Ashlee Bagnell is a graduate of Kennesaw State University where she received her BA in English. She spends her time writing (mostly) Bartow stories at Noble & Main. When she isn’t writing for the magazine, she can be found reading, drinking coffee, binge watching Netflix and HBO shows, drinking more coffee, and even sometimes acting with ACT I Inc., a community theatre based in Cartersville. She lives in Euharlee, Ga. with her family and her two senior adult dogs Milo and Charlie Brown.