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Best of Olympia 2011 Readers' Pick: SafePlace

You chose SafePlace as Best Non-profit

SafePlace: Readers appreciate the help provided to those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEVIN?TRUE

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SafePlace - voted Olympia's best non-profit - has a wide-ranging array of programs to serve those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. There is a confidential shelter, a Crisis Line, English- and Spanish-speaking support groups and a new support group for teens.

And then there's a restaurant, MIJAS, started by a group of Spanish-speaking women who've survived domestic violence with support from SafePlace. Currently between locations, MIJAS (Mujeres Improving Job Abilities and Skills) serves traditional Mexican cuisine and is set to begin operations soon from the kitchen of the Governor Hotel.

"The women of MIJAS are inspirational," says Mary Pontarolo, the director of SafePlace. "They have a lot of courage. We're proud to have them be a part of us. It's really amazing."

The project won MIJAS and SafePlace the Spirit of Advocacy Award from the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

"Only one organization in the nation is selected for it every year," Pontarolo says. "And there are thousands of programs. We're pretty proud of it."

Of course, the MIJAS program is just a small part of what SafePlace does; its focus is on direct service. In 2009, there were 3,301 calls to the crisis line, and 266 people stayed at the shelter.

SafePlace is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is planning for the future with an expansion of its facilities.

The organization is raising funds to build a new 12,000-square-foot community-service center in its current location. The aim is to begin construction next year if fundraising is successful. (So far, $1.3 million of the needed $5 million has been raised.)

The new space will include more room for in-person work with clients and support groups, a space for children to play - and a commercial kitchen for MIJAS with dining space in the lobby.

And along with the food will come education.

"The plates and cups will have facts about the prevention of sexual and domestic violence," she says. "We're really trying to get the word out and have more people talk about it. That's the only thing that really works. Then perpetrators begin to feel the pressure, and that's how change happens." - Molly Gilmore

[SafePlace, 314 Legion Way SE, Olympia; 360-786-8574,]

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