Heartly House has been a beacon of hope in the Frederick community for 40 years, sheltering battered and abused women from the very beginning in 1979 and now doing so much more.

This venerable institution now serves those who have been victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking, by offering a helping hand, a safe place to stay as well as legal services, counseling and more.

The women who started the shelter in 1977 are referred to as the “founding mothers” by the current staff. Executive Director Inga James said they started their work by investigating the problem of battered women in the county, an issue that in those days was whispered about behind closed doors, if it was discussed at all.

James told News-Post reporter Heather Mongilio that they created a task force to study the data that was available from police and hospitals, and then interviewed people. Two years later, they were able to get property to open the shelter, and they have been helping abuse victims ever since.

One core service of Heartly House is a crisis hotline that receives 700 calls a month. Victims of abuse can call for help with such questions as how to leave an abusive relationship. That kind of help has been offered since early in the history of the shelter.

But as time went by, the organization began to look at other kinds of abuse problems, and that has led it into other, related fields. From starting with domestic violence, it was an easy decision to expand to helping victims of sexual assault and then child abuse.

From there, it was just a logical expansion to helping the victims of human trafficking, a problem that the founders probably did not even consider an issue back then.

“Boy, back in the ’90s, nobody thought, you know, it would happen in our county, and now we just had a meeting with the Frederick Police Department Criminal Investigation Division talking about human trafficking,” James told our reporter. “And I mean, they all are basically just resigned to the fact that this is going to be an important issue for a long time.”

It is almost inevitable, then, that the folks at Heartly House now must grapple with substance abuse, especially opioid use, as well as mental health issues.

“Those are two of the really big changes that have happened over the years,” James said. “And looking at our victims, the trauma has also become more horrific. ... ‘He doesn’t just punch me. Now he punches me and strangles ...’ It’s gotten a lot worse over the years.”

So, what does the future hold for Heartly House?

James said there is much more work to be done on human trafficking and substance abuse, and she hopes her organization will be able to help. She wants to have a full team of advocates for victims of human trafficking. And she would like to hire a substance abuse coordinator.

She also hopes to have satellite offices to help address transportation issues. Transitional housing is now considered a “best practice” for addressing domestic violence, so that, too, is on James’ wish list.

It is like a mobile hanging over a baby’s crib; if you touch one part of the domestic violence problem, all the other pieces begin to move as well.

The Frederick community should give thanks to those “founding mothers” from the 1970s, for their foresight and wisdom in creating this valuable institution. We wish Heartly House, the staff and the volunteers well as they continue on their mission.

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