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Shelter seeks new office site

The Dawn Center needs more space and would also like to start a thrift store.

The Dawn Center, which provides shelter for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, finds itself in need of a new home for its administrative offices.

The center's board of directors recently approved a search for a new site for the offices and a proposed thrift store.

"We are so crammed in here," Lori Hoban, executive director of the Dawn Center, said of the current office, which houses administrators, counselors, accountants and volunteers. "I don't know how many people that adds up to, but it's a lot."

Since July, the Dawn Center's business office has been in a seven-room house converted into office space on State Road 50 west of Brooksville. The 1,700-square-foot building is the former home of the Suzuki School of Music and Hernando Today.

Stacked along the walls are donations of clothing, food, children's toys and household items. In the front room, behind the receptionist's desk, clothes are packed onto racks, leaving only a narrow walkway. A storage shed behind the building is full, and a 20-square-foot tent is packed with boxes.

"All these donations are here for our clients who need them," said Hoban, who estimated that the center has 300 open cases.

But making room for the donations has a price. The center's counselor for children and case manager work alternate shifts so they can share office space.

"We are looking for a location that is centrally located in the county," said Mary Ann Ardison, a domestic violence counselor for the center. "Transportation here for our clients is very important. If they can't get to us, we can't help them."

Ideally, the board would like to find a building with about 8,000 square feet so it can open a thrift store along with new business offices. Income from a store, Hoban said, would provide the organization with money beyond its annual $900,000 in grant allocations and allow the center to continue providing services for free.

Currently, the Dawn Center rents its office space from Hernando Today for about $900 a month, Hoban said. Though the lease ends June 30, she said, the newspaper has told her the agency can stay until the end of the year.

"After that, we just aren't sure," said Hoban. "At some point, they have plans to begin construction on a new building on this site."

Duane Chichester, general manager and publisher of Hernando Today, did not return a phone call from the Times seeking comment.

In the meantime, Hoban and her staff are working hard trying to find a new home. Any donation of space to the non-profit group is tax deductible, Hoban said.

"We know we will probably have to pay something closer to $2,000 to get what we are looking for," she said. "But finding that kind of space is tough."

The Dawn Center's shelter, which is located elsewhere, currently houses about 25 people, 18 of them children. In a couple of weeks, the organization plans to open a children's center adjacent to the shelter where children can play and receive counseling, Hoban said.

"It seems the shelter has been continuously full lately," she said. "I'm just happy to know the service is available to the community."