SPRING HILL — Grace Maineri calls herself a "newbie" to the Dawn Center, but the 64-year-old is not new to its cause. She's been an advocate and worked professionally for 12 years supporting services for victims of domestic abuse.
Terms like "V of D" (victims of domestic violence) and "DV" (domestic violence) trip off her tongue with both a stern vehemence and a passion to overcome them.
Since taking over in April as executive director of the Dawn Center, Hernando County's refuge for battered women and their children, Maineri has revived some fallen-by-the-side programs and has more community outreach efforts in mind.
Prime among her efforts has been a renewed affiliation with the Humane Society of the Nature Coast.
Maineri said battered women are often reluctant to leave their situations because of their pets.
"Pets are family members, and we want people to know we take care of family members," she said.
When women, with or without families, check into the Dawn Center, their pets are assigned to the Humane Society. The Humane Society then disburses them to volunteer caregivers.
"They're safe and they're cared for and they're loved until the owner can take care of them," Maineri said. "Then the pet is returned to them. If not feasible, the pet is adopted out."
Maineri also is looking to reopen a thrift shop, a fundraising effort of a couple of years ago that didn't earn sufficient money to pay the rent and add to the Dawn Center's coffers.
"It serves so many aspects," she said, "where people can give things and get a (tax) writeoff and people can buy off the street." The shop also provided clothing to victims and their families, as well as furnishings for them to set up new households.
"I feel we can do it and do it right," Maineri said, adding, "possibly at a better location."
The former shop was in a small shopping center off Broad Street, just west of Brooksville. She hopes a new store can be launched before October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
While the Dawn Center is mainly financed through grants from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the United Way of Hernando County, Maineri stressed that local contributions and fundraising events are vital.
Maineri said the shelter relies on donations so that those leaving the center can take with them beds, cribs and other setup needs.
Especially needed are disposable diapers, baby lotions and shampoos, paper towels, toilet tissue and clothing for infants and children. Items can be donated at an outreach center in the PineBrook Medical Center, 14540 Cortez Blvd., Suite 202, west of Brooksville.
The Dawn Center's shelter, at an undisclosed location to protect its clients, can accommodate 40 people. The average population is 12 women and six children, but can change hourly, Maineri said.
The facility is a "home times more," she said, describing a playroom, outdoor playground, and computers for women to search for jobs and alternative living facilities.
The center also accepts battered men and batterers themselves.
A veteran of directing the domestic violence center training at Sunrise, in Dade City, and the Spring in Tampa, Maineri holds a degree from the Barry University School of Law in Orlando.
Former Dawn Center director Debbie Andrews left after five years in the position "to pursue other interests," said board of directors president Toby Gray. After posting the position on an executive search website, Gray said, the board interviewed numerous candidates.
In selecting Maineri, he said: "She has a history of working with victims. We feel she's the right candidate for our organization."