JEFFERSON — For four decades, the organization now called People Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse of Jefferson County (PADA) has provided support services to survivors of abuse.
That might change after a year of uncertainty cut off the organization’s cash flow. PADA only has enough money left in its coffers to get through the rest of 2019, according to accountant James Berndsen.
Mismanagement prompted rumors about the agency’s future and the county stopped providing funding. The nonprofit organization’s previous executive director failed to send financial reports on how grant money is used to the state government, according to current PADA Executive Director Lisa Berndsen.
Because of those missing reports and a now-withdrawn vote by the organization’s board to close the support center, government funding from the Wisconsin Departments of Children and Families and Justice was pulled and misinformation spread.
“PADA had been told that closing might be the only option when those reports were incomplete,” Berndsen said. “With so much information needed, the board at the time agreed.”
After the vote, though, PADA kept helping survivors of domestic and sexual abuse in Jefferson County, even though the grant money never came and many people around the county believed the agency had closed.
“PADA, however, remained open with new advocates and have never discontinued services,” Berndsen told the Fort Atkinson Rotary Club.
But after the funding was pulled, the state gave that funding to two organizations located just outside Jefferson County: People Against A Violent Environment (PAVE) in Dodge County and New Beginnings APFV in Walworth County.
A void has opened with these important services moving to organizations based outside of Jefferson County, according to Berndsen.
“The ripple effect of these events have reached far and wide,” Berndsen said. “No one opened an office in Jefferson, where we so often meet clients at the courthouse. These two split the county in half using Highway 106 (as the dividing point). I’d like to point out we serve the entire county.”
Even with these massive funding changes, PADA has been able to continue helping people on a shoestring budget, Berndsen said.
However, PADA will not remain open much longer if funding does not start coming through,” Berndsen said.
“If I’m being honest, I see no decrease in our numbers served even with two (other) new organizations here in the county. We deal with such a horrible truth that abuse can affect every single race, gender, age and demographic.”
In 2019, the organization has held more than 250 sessions with clients in every city in the county, according to Berndsen. It also has added evening hours and off-site appointments, recruited new volunteers and tried to go above and beyond for its clients, she added.
“Jefferson County does not have a domestic abuse shelter,” Berndsen said. “We receive calls just about every week looking for a safe place. In times where they are in imminent danger and no surrounding shelter has availability, we will pay for a hotel stay.”
PADA is providing all of these services as its budget has been cut in half in recent years, according to Berndsen. Much of that budget cut is due to the organization’s move to a new building last year that is being provided at no cost. Thus, PADA is operating at a cost of $120,000 per year — down from over $300,000 before the funding was cut.
But even so, PADA needs grant money as much as it always has. With that money now going to the two other groups, PADA won’t be able to survive and that has real consequences for real people, Berndsen said.
“If PADA goes, a lot of people won’t be provided services,” Berndsen said. “(The new groups) won’t pick it up if they’re not in Jefferson.”
PADA’s central location in the county and its vast network of support from Fort Atkinson to Watertown and Cambridge to Palmyra means the group can help more Jefferson County survivors, the director noted. Berndsen said she believes PADA should get the funding from the Jefferson County Health Department for providing services to Jefferson County, not Walworth or Dodge.
“One of them gets money from Dodge County, one of them gets money from Walworth; give me the money from Jefferson,” Berndsen said.
She said she plans to ask that Jefferson County reinstate the $60,000 it provided in the past.
A representative from New Beginnings declined to comment and PAVE could not be reached after a request for comment.