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SAFFT solution sought
Commission says it will work with group
Ashley Anderson points out the conference room at the SAFFT house on Wednesday. The county plans to help the organization find a larger home. - photo by Autumn Vetter

A federal grant benefitting the local nonprofit Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together will expand the program — once it secures the space to grow.

The Office on Violence Against Women awarded The Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in Atlanta.

The council selected SAFFT, as well as Forsyth County Family Haven and Gainesville-based No One Alone, as the beneficiaries of the award.

The $400,000 paid over three years to the nonprofits in partnership will allow SAFFT to expand its domestic violence court-approved  visitation center and add a custody exchange program, said Ashley Anderson, executive director.

The funding will also go toward creating a satellite SAFFT location in Dawsonville, she said.

“This grant is going to provide a lot more security and safety to our staff and the families,” Anderson said.

One of the requirements of the award is that the center have two parking lots with separate entrances to allow for safe custody exchanges. That has raised some questions for the group in terms of its lease.

SAFFT has operated out of a house on county-owned property off Veterans Memorial Boulevard since 2010, when commissioners granted a no-cost lease.

The lone stipulation of that agreement was a 90-day termination clause in case the county needed the property.

The organization returned to commissioners on Tuesday to seek a more long-term solution before it makes the costly improvements the grant requires.

The commission voted 5-0 to remove the termination clause, which keeps the lease in place through 2015.

In the meantime, the county plans to work with SAFFT on ensuring it has a permanent home.

Commissioners discussed the precedence of providing space for nonprofits, noting that the Bald Ridge Boys Lodge received county property to build on.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the commission has typically allowed these types of agreements for nonprofits that fill a need for the courts.

Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson said SAFFT is an “instrumental” resource for court mandates by working “to maintain families where possible” while providing protection and safety for visitation.

The center needs more space, Jackson said, but SAFFT doesn’t want to spend much-needed funding on a site that it may not be able to stay in.

The 33-acre property, once considered for a detention center, has become marked as a possible business park under the Forsyth County Development Authority.

SAFFT wants to secure a permanent location, whether that means moving to a new site or staying in the current place.

“I love this property, and I can’t imagine leaving,” Anderson said. “But it’s going to be extremely expensive to make it into what we need today.

“I don’t know really what the right answer is. It’s a Catch 22. It’s going to cost no matter what.”

The center opened less than two years ago. The organization’s growth has since exceeded Anderson’s expectations when she agreed to the potentially temporary location.

“It was originally just supposed to be a safe space,” she said. “But now it’s a full-blown service that we barely have any openings in.”

Anderson said that growth could be attributed to the deep budget cuts for the Department of Children and Family Services, which spurred SAFFT to provide more services.