Wonderful food, conversation and dancing carried into the night as the third annual Masquerade Ball benefiting the Russell House took over the Havener Center Saturday, October 7. Members of the Rolla community and the surrounding area dressed in their finest, some with glittering masks and bedazzled Converse shoes, in order to make the night even more memorable.

Wonderful food, conversation and dancing carried into the night as the third annual Masquerade Ball benefiting the Russell House took over the Havener Center Saturday, October 7. Members of the Rolla community and the surrounding area dressed in their finest, some with glittering masks and bedazzled Converse shoes, in order to make the night even more memorable.

“We offer services for victims of domestic and sexual violence,” said Randi Turntine, development and volunteer coordinator for the Russell House. “Most people know us just for the house—they know we can house women. We can house up to 62 women and children at a time, but our services are free to anyone who needs them. Maybe they have somewhere to stay, or they’re not ready to leave their abuser and they just need someone to talk to. Those support groups and counseling and (legal advocacy) are free of charge, no matter what your financial circumstances are.”

To help fund donations for the event local businesses and artists donated goods and creations to the Ball that would then be bid on at a silent auction before the meal. These donations, ranging from paintings and jewelry, to canine-themed goodie baskets gave all proceeds to the cause of the Russell House, which is a portion of the Phelps County Family Crisis Services. “We have one key fundraiser a year, and all of the funds go directly to Russell House,” said Turntine. “A majority of what we do is grant funded, but there’s things that can’t be covered by grants. If someone needs money to get back and forth to their first job, or toilet paper and paper towels, little things around the house. All of these (donations) do directly to that.”

The House, serving Phelps, Crawford, Maries and Dent Counties, has a staff of 21 individuals. With the capacity to hold 62 women and children at a time, and with each staff member providing their own speciality, it’s easy to see how the Russell House plays such a big part in the community. “We are like an umbrella organization. Everyone knows us by Russell House, but then there’s the house, the counseling support groups, and we do the legal advocacy.”, said Turntine. “A common misconception is that we only help women. We are only able to house women, but any service we offer to a woman we can offer to a man, too. If there is a man that was sexually assaulted we can put them in a room and work with police to make sure he is safe.”

Just a week prior to this Masquerade Ball a small fire displaced many residents of the Russell House and its employees. Repairs are still being made following the fire and subsequent water damage from the sprinkler system. Turntine spoke of the fast response following the fire. “The community has been really helpful donating and the Red Cross has been great,” she explained. With local businesses covering the costs of the event, such as the Edward Jones team of Rolla, all money made at the Masquerade Ball goes directly to the House, instead of having to pay for the venue and food preparation.

Any individual looking to donate, either monetarily or through items, can search the group’s Facebook page at ‘Russell House PCFCS. “I post our needs list on our Facebook page, which is the easiest way to get information out,” Turntine said. “Sometimes we’re in need of bug spray in the summer, sunscreen and this time of year maybe we need more hats and gloves. It’s always changing. There are some basic needs, like the basic toiletries you buy for your own house, we need those basic needs continually.”

The Russell House not only offers counseling services and support groups for victims free of charge, but they also work towards the prevention of abuse starting at a much younger age.
“I don’t think enough people know that we do prevention education in middle and high schools,” Turntine explained. “We’re wanting to end the cycle of abuse. We want to work ourselves out of a job. It’s not enough to pick these women and men up after they’ve fallen, which is why we work with the youth and talk to them about healthy relationships and things like bullying, because that will affect relationships later. We can’t just pick people up, we have to stop the damage. Not many shelters in Missouri have a program as excellent as ours, and I’m very proud of our rich education program.”

Koree Claxton-Miller, prevention educator at the Russell House, spoke of the program she leads in local schools. “My hope would be that schools would call one day and they’re like ‘You know what? Kumbaya fell upon the building and we’re all getting along,’ and that would be great!”
To have a social change movement within a school district and a school is a large task, because it’s not just the teachers, administrators and students.
“It’s the janitors, the kitchen staff and there’s a lot of people involved.” said Claxton-Miller.

“I think the short term goal is to give kids a safe space where they can actually bring up issues,” said Claxton-Miller. “We live in such a small microcosm. Kids don’t say stuff around here, because you might go to lunch with my mom, or my cousin does your hair. It’s such a small world, so they aren't telling their teachers or the counselors. So creating a safe atmosphere where they can go ‘Hey, Ms. Koree, can I talk to you after class?’ is invaluable to me.”

Regarding the Masquerade Ball itself, Claxton-Miller believes there is a sharedness that comes with participating and donating to their cause. “With an issue like domestic and sexual violence you like to know that there are services there, but you hope you never need them. So coming to an event like this does not affiliate you as a victim, it doesn’t say you’ve had a problem. It just gives you a space to create awareness, talk with people, and to also see what members of the community have the same value system as you. For me it’s nice to see a community that comes together for a cause that not a lot of people still want to talk about.”