The Orangeburg Department of Public Safety and more than a dozen partners have developed a resource center to help residents improve their lives. Organizers hope it’s the first of many centers.

The department and its partners gathered Thursday morning at Hampton Chase Apartments in Orangeburg for the ribbon cutting and grand opening of Safe Haven.

Located at 110 Hamp Chase Circle, the community resource center will be staffed with a full-time community liaison who will help connect community members with social, mental health and other services they may need.

“If there’s a particular need, our community liaison person will be able to make referrals. Also, we have a facility set up so if there is a service provider who needs to come on campus, we’re equipped to do that, as well,” ODPS Chief Charles P. Austin Sr. said.

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“We’re looking forward to opening other Safe Haven sites throughout the City of Orangeburg. Just know that for today we’re excited about this Safe Haven. We’re excited about the public and private partnerships that have been established,” Austin said.

He continued, “It lays the foundation for us to continue to expand this effort. We hope that what we’re doing here becomes a model that can replicated throughout not only the state, but throughout the country.

“We believe we can expand to other locations based on the groundwork that we have done to set up this facility. So within the next six months or so, we will be looking to open another facility.”

Austin said geographic location was considered for the first Safe Haven, but that’s not the only component that was considered.

“We’re also taking into account the volume of crime incidents, or other social or quality of life issues that need to be addressed. This is not all about crime fighting. Our belief is crime is a byproduct of social and quality of life issues that go unaddressed. So as we move as a team, we’ll be looking to identify what those social and quality of life issues are and then how we go about addressing them,” Austin said.

Orangeburg City Administrator Sidney Evering thanked all of the community partners who made the effort possible, including Kassy Alia Ray, chief executive officer of the Columbia-based nonprofit Serve & Connect and her staff.

“They do tremendous amounts of positive work throughout the state. … They were responsible for the grant that will pay for a lot of this,” Evering said.

A federal grant came from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is a component of the Office of Justice Programs that is located within the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ray said the nearly $1 million grant is focused on providing collaborative community solutions for crime reduction.

“Thanks to the funding provided, we’ve been able to help get this Safe Haven off the ground. It’ll also mean that our staff that will be locally based will be able to help staff the facility and manage the different partners. With the hope of great success, (it will) be able to expand to additional sites,” she said.

Ray said the grant funding runs out in approximately a year and a half, “but our hope is that if we get these Safe Havens established, that we’ll be able to identify … other mechanisms for sustainability.”

“We want to get it off the ground and make it work,” she said.

Serve & Connect, which she founded, has a mission of fostering positive change through sustainable police and community partnerships.

“Community policing is often something that is very misunderstood, but at the core of community policing is community working together alongside police and police working alongside community.

“Police are one spoke on the public safety wheel, and it takes us working together. At Serve & Connect, we really focus on helping be that glue, that facilitator that helps magnify the impact for police and citizens to work together effectively. We’re very proud to grow our relationship with the City of Orangeburg,” Ray said.

She noted that Evering served as a member of Serve & Connect’s board of directors, while Austin was “just a model of community policing and a true heartfelt leader.”

“They’re very aligned with our mission and goals. We’ve been proud of the work that we’ve done and look forward to continuing to see that grow together,” Ray said.

Evering said Austin has indeed been an example of a good leader.

“He was hired at a time where the nation was rife with strife as it relates to law enforcement and policing, but it is on Chief Austin’s heart to be a community partner. He has led that effort, and it has culminated into this into Safe Haven. We’re so fortunate to have Chief Austin leading this charge,” he said.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael C. Butler said, “We are so thankful for this grand opening of Safe Haven. I want to thank Chief Austin and his staff at the Department of Public Safety, along with our partners who are with us today.”

“We always are at our best to try to make Orangeburg become better, and we’re so glad for the collaboration. We have worked together to show our city how we’re moving it forward. … We always want to create a safe and healthy community for our citizens,” the mayor said.

Austin said his agency’s role with the center will be multi-faceted.

“One is we want to ensure that the community’s safe and secure. That is probably our best avenue for bringing in volunteers. Then we have a number of our officers who have expertise in various (areas). They will be able to provide assistance. So we are partners in this effort,” he said.

Andrea Loney, executive director of South Carolina Legal Services, said, “We’re here to help the residents with any social, civil kind of issues that they have. For example, one of the things that we find oftentimes in low-income communities is that children are not half going to school.

“They have some sort of educational problems. So we consider ourselves a part of the whole prevention of the school-to-prison pipeline by trying to help parents get the necessary services that their children need before they get into trouble,” she said. That includes representing them in school suspension and expulsion cases and with individual educational placement issues.

“In addition to that, we provide legal representation in the area of domestic violence. … Violence is not always physical. It’s the whole mental issue. It’s also all of the exploitation, because we’ve seen a lot of that with senior citizens nowadays,” she said.

Kimberly McKnight, a resident of Hampton Chase Apartments, said she appreciates the Safe Haven and what it represents.

“I think it’s good because we have the (Orangeburg) Manor (Apartments) nearby, and we have all of this community with kids staying in and the crime rate in this area.

“Once they see that the officers are more active, … then hopefully the crime rate will decrease. They said they’re going to interact more with the kids, give them something to do. I think it’ll be great,” she said.

Sherall Thompson, a resident of nearly Dogwood Crossing, said, “It means a lot to me for the youth that’s out here. There’s been nothing for them to do in this area. Some of them don’t have transportation to get to where they want to go. This will be a safe place for them.”

She thanked ODPS officer Devon Gilmore because he, “really pushed for us to have this Safe Haven.”

“I hope they’ll still be out here when this is over,” Thompson said.

The creation of a Safe Haven was made possible with the help of the following partners: CASA Family Systems; Orangeburg Area Mental Health; SC Works; Salvation Army; OCAB Community Action Agency; Tiffany Grant Foundation; Family Solutions; Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College; NAACP; Vocational Rehabilitation Orangeburg; Cooperative Church Ministries of Orangeburg; Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse; S.C. Department of Social Services; First Steps; DAZZ; and South Carolina Legal Services.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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