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Home for battered and abused serves many needs

Holmes County Herald of Lexington, Mississippi

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A woman leaves her home state along with her children because her husband won't stop beating her.

A homeless girl doesn't have a dime to her name, might secure housing through charitable means, then still doesn't have a bed to sleep on.

A man leaves his home with his small children because his wife is an addict.

These are stories that never get told. In these moments people just need help.

One woman in Lexington knows these stories and what it's like to need help.

Donnie Washington is the head, hands and feet for her shelter, the Washington Home for the Battered and Abused.

Washington, a Tchula native, has lived in Lexington for the past 40 years and has a heart driven need to helps others.

"I got my LPN license through Holmes Junior," said Washington. "I've worked at Doctor John Downer's office."

Washington currently works at the UMMC Lexington, since 2000, and has been with the hospital in one form or another for the past 25 years.

A licensed practical nurse, Washington motivated herself as a youngster to help others.

"I've always told myself I wanted to be a nurse. Since I was a little girl I would help people out in the neighborhood, do a lot of things to help them out."

From top to bottom Washington has worked in many capacities in nursing, including as a traveling nurse.

"We just opened up two clinics here recently, The University opened up a clinic in West and they opened up a clinic in Vaid-en, Washington added. "People are responding."

"I am the mother of seven children," Washington continued. "I have 26 grand-babies and then four step-children that I also raised."

Raising her boys, Washington said home was rarely quiet.

"I had boys, and (other) boys would come to the house, then they'd stay," Washington laughed.

The idea for the shelter came about for Washington during difficult times with her first marriage.

"I got married when I was seventeen," Washington said. "I did not know my (then) husband's background, he was so abusive.

"We were only married five years but had three kids together. After about the third child he was still doing the same things. He came from a very abusive family, his daddy was a preacher but very abusive to his (Washington's first husband's) mother. He was a preacher and didn't want anybody to know about that, but everybody knew it. I guess when he saw this, my first husband, he moved and I don't know if any of the abuse passed on to the other (siblings). We never talked about it.

"But I couldn't do that, I just couldn't," said Washington.

"After that I was single for about two or three years and then I married, to Lewis Washington."

Mr. Washington serves in the capacity of vice president for the shelter and program.

"I wanted to start the program when I was still working full time at Doctor Downer's office," Washington continued. "I just said 'OK, I would like to help somebody.' Because when I was trying to get away from (Washington's first husband) I couldn't go anywhere but to my mom's and he always knew that's where I was. So there was no where for me to go. And I said if I could just help one person, to get here, to stay here and then put them on the bus, plane or train so they can get away and get somewhere safe.

"I've even taken some people out of town in my car," Washington added.

The shelter, which is located in Holmes County, was started in 2000 and serves as a safe haven for those in need so its exact location is not disclosed.

"They can't stay long. They can stay up to 30 days but most of them can't be there for more than a night or two."

With safety being the main concern, time at the shelter is limited to decrease any chance of a person being discovered by an abuser.

"A lot of out of town people come down here. Hispanics will come down here with black males, and I don't know why but when they (Hispanic females) come to Mississippi they (black males) just beat them up. Some females are of a different race but the males are always black. These people are coming from Iowa and Wisconsin, not just from around here."

Washington took on the task of starting the shelter by herself, attaining a 501(c) (3) tax status for nonprofit formation and with no initial knowledge of operating such a venture.

"It's very expensive to file for nonprofit, the applications, everything that I did was blind," Washington said. "Once I got it, I started sending off letters to different foundations like Kellogg, women's foundations and

Mississippi Development Authority. So many times I would put out two or three thousand dollars for people to help me and those people would just get the money and go on.

"I feel sort of spirit broken and I've never had a federal grant," Washington added. "All the personal stuff is coming from a personal business. I know the Barrett's got a foundation and the Baptist Association has helped and other church people. Wal-Mart will usually give us a donation. Mostly the other stuff, utilities, rent is out of my own pocket and my family members just to keep us open. So I've had two of everything since I started. Two bills, two mortgages, two of all this."

Amidst all the hurdles Washington has yet to fold under constant scrutiny of friends or family that say she should just close the doors.

"I really don't want to close because sometimes we'll have people who are just flat out homeless and have no where to go," said Washington. "There's one staying (at the shelter) now, she's homeless, the house that she was staying in was falling down. She's having some issues mentally."

Washington defines the shelter as serving in multiple capacities.

"I've had three mental cases and prefer not to go through that again," said Washington. "Life Help here in Lexington has sent me two that stayed there."

Washington was still able to manage two "home fronts" taking care of shelter residents while still being a mother to seven and also nurse to a disabled brother.

"I have a brother that stayed with me 28 years that can't walk from scoliosis and meningitis."

While caring for others Washington herself still needed to be cared for and fed spiritually.

"First, there is God, and other times when I see someone in need my family says 'You can't say no.' If they're in need and I know I don't have anything I'll go to somebody I know who's got something and they've been really good in helping."

Fundraising and keeping money in the shelter's account is one of the big struggles Washington has had to tackle all the time for the past 15 years.

Even though the shelter isn't consistently promoted on a wide scale, safety being a chief reason, there are still big needs to be met.

"I don't have any support, and many people have said 'I didn't know we had (a shelter),'" Washington said. "That's what I hear."

The shelter functions on many levels and has need for many supplies. For those interested in supporting or donating to the shelter, Washington can be reached at 662-792-7941 or e-mail at

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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