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  • Mandy Chitwood

History of Defy Domestic Abuse Beloit

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Take a moment to learn more about our program’s history


Tracing our roots back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Defy Domestic Abuse Beloit has served survivors of domestic abuse in Rock County Wisconsin for going on 50 years, and in those many decades, we’ve seen a profound positive shift in our community.

When we first started, the professional social work field wasn’t able to offer survivors of domestic abuse many resources. Why? Because domestic abuse remained largely unrecognized at that time.

Back then, domestic abuse was severely understudied, which effectively cut off legal, social, and medical services for survivors of domestic abuse. This lack of recognition also left us with unreliable statistics regarding domestic abuse and no legal or medical protocols for how to effectively respond to survivors of domestic abuse

But instead of going along with the status quo of the time, our program defied the norms. We recognized the lack of resources in our community for domestic abuse survivors, and we worked to close that gap. This led to the creation of safe houses for survivors, a network of homes organized by the YWCA of Beloit that provided shelter for women and children fleeing domestic abuse in Beloit, Wisconsin.


Even with this safe house network, survivors of domestic abuse in our community needed more. The YWCA of Beloit responded to this challenge by acquiring a home on Locust Street and converting it into a five bedroom shelter. This was accomplished with donations primarily from the community.

The house next door was then converted into offices, counseling rooms, and a play/therapy area for children, and the program began to hire a leadership staff who had a social work background and increased social work professional training regarding domestic abuse.

Then In the late 1990’s, the Beloit YWCA closed its doors, and The Beloit Salvation Army began to oversee the domestic abuse shelter program. The Beloit Salvation Army grew what Beloit YWCA started by developing transitional living services for clients exiting from the shelter. These services helped survivors transition to being completely independent. These services were offered at the former “Mercy Lodge” substance abuse facility.


Then in the early 2000’s, the domestic abuse shelter began facing financial hardships, and in 2003, the shelter looked at closing its doors. At this time, Family Services offered to oversee and continue the program and to expand it by providing additional counseling, advocacy, and referral services.

Along with Family Services, Mercy Health Systems and Ms. Diane Hendricks stepped-in to continue and expand the shelter and its services. Mercy Health systems generously donated the former Mercy Lodge building, and Ms. Diane Hendricks funded the renovation of both the residential facility as well as the former garage (which became staff offices).


From 2003 to now, Family Services has grown the shelter program into a full social advocacy agency, an agency that fights for survivors of domestic abuse and works to dismantle domestic abuse permanently in our community.

This wider advocacy scope changed both small and large things at the agency. For instance, during this time we moved away from the term trauma ‘victim’ and to the empowered term ‘survivor’. Also at this time in 2012, under the Executive Director’s leadership, John Pefifer, we changed our program’s name from “Beloit Domestic Violence Center” to “Beloit Domestic Violence Survivor Center” (BDVSC).

Our advocacy passion, wider scope, new terms and new name gave us an opportunity to better educate the community about domestic abuse and to better support survivors of domestic abuse.

The result of these years of hard work is a profound positive shift in our community. Now, instead of domestic abuse being ignored, overlooked, and unrecognized, many community members acknowledge the gravity of domestic abuse and think about how to support survivors, all the way down to what words to use - from victims to survivors.


There was a point in time where Defy Domestic Abuse Beloit had a limited amount of staff members and services. For instance, in 2012, there was only a director, a few part time case managers, a full-time shelter advocate (that doubled as a legal advocate), and several part-time shelter advocates working for the program.

There were about 8 rooms located in the shelter and only the shelter residents had access to services at that time. There were limited volunteers at the shelter, and the ones that were there weren’t regulated with supervision. Also, the agency did not have a structured volunteer outreach program or strong volunteer recruitment process.

So, when we stand back and look at the agency today, it’s truly amazing to see how far the program and the shelter as a whole has evolved over the years. But we know this profound change didn’t happen out of nowhere. Current and previous staff members who have been a part of Family Services for many years, can tell you about the hard work, emotions, and dedication it’s taken to achieve today’s growth of Defy Domestic Abuse Beloit.


A lot has changed since 2012 (and I’m not just referring to the mandatory mask wearing!). The most significant and recent change happened on October 1, 2020, when the former name “BDVSC” rebranded and launched its new name “DEFY Domestic Abuse Beloit”.

To learn more information about our name change, please check out this blog:

How We Go From Heart-Struck to Heart-Strong

Next, we are going to acknowledge the growth of our program and how it has impacted our services/staff members in a tremendous way.

DEFY NOW: How Our Advocacy & Services Have Grown


Mrs. Kelsey Hood-Christenson took over the program in 2016. Under Kelsey’s leadership, the program made substantial progress in professionalizing services, particularly beyond the shelter component.

She started to make changes to the shelter to make it more meaningful for survivors, such as changing the paperwork and incorporating more non-residential outreach services.

Today, our outreach advocates can assist survivors with resources; emotional support; referrals for empowerment and basic needs; family safety plans; and advocacy on their behalf in the community.

Not only did we implement more outreach services, the program focused on renovating the shelter to 11 rooms by converting the lounge and office rooms in 2017.


2017 was a great year for the program. That year, along with expanding the amount of rooms, we expanded the shelter to be gender-neutral. Not only was this a significant change to the program regarding the number of residents, but it was a huge transition for the program because we could now give survivors the opportunity for more services.

Now, our emergency shelter provides supportive housing for all survivors, including LGBTQ survivors. LGBTQ members may face many barriers in accessing support with domestic abuse, such as the lack of resources in the community. We saw this need, and keeping in our tradition, we worked to close this gap.

By expanding the shelter to be gender-neutral, we’ve been able to create a safe place for all survivors of domestic abuse to come and seek services. We’ve been able to give support to all of our community with wide-open, welcoming arms. We’ve also - alongside our women’s and children’s group - added a men’s support group and LGBTQ support group to ensure all survivors have a safe place to engage with other survivors.


We continued our program expansion in the community, and in June 2018, we launched the Lethality Assessment Program with the Beloit Wisconsin Police Department. The Lethality Assessment Program is a standardized, evidence-based tool that first responders can use not only to determine the level of danger in a domestic situation, but also to provide high lethality risk survivors with safety planning, resources, referrals, and information pertaining to domestic abuse.

Since many survivors aren’t aware of the real danger they are in, this assessment helps them recognize circumstances that make them more vulnerable. The LAP’s purpose is to prevent ​homicide, create a sense of trust in the police, and connect the survivors directly with help, or provide resources if they are not ready for help.