Written by Holly Bates and Tom Gresham
SAFE-T was founded by Carol Sarmiento Gresham in 1995, due to the lack of available services and housing for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault within 60 to 100 miles of Mount Pleasant.
Carol agreed to serve as Board President and SAFE-T Executive Director until a Director could be found. In late 1995, Carol talked the 1st Presbyterian Church into letting SAFE-T use the parsonage on the Church property as a shelter. Carol also found volunteers to enclose the front porch of the parsonage for office use.
SAFE-T’s first shelter was opened the fall of 1995. A 900 sq. ft., 2 bedroom, 1 bath house that immediately began housing DV and SA victims. Within two weeks, the shelter was overflowing with over 35 women and children victims. The shelter was staffed 24 hours a day by volunteers, mostly SAFE-T Board Members.
In 1996, Carol found a small office building that was empty and arranged for the owner to donate its use as SAFE-T’s first office. At the same time, Carol began researching grants. She wrote and received the first grant that was used to hire employees for the Shelter.
After her success at writing the first grant, Carol continued to write grants and added a legal advocate and office secretary. She also began searching for a larger building for the Shelter.
During this time, Carol and the Board of Directors began fundraisers to pay for a new shelter. Carol arranged for SAFE-T to work concessions for baseball games and hosted golf tournaments, fishing tournaments, Indian Pow Wows, and anything that would raise seed money to build a new shelter.
Carol continued to write grants and secured financing to purchase property for the shelter. In 1997, Carol was instrumental in securing a loan to purchase a 4,000 sq. ft. building and renovate it for the new shelter. 1,000 sq. ft. was added to the existing building, while renovation of the interior into bedrooms and office space was accomplished with the assistance of the Titus County Sheriff Department who allowed the use of jail trustees to build bedrooms, tile the floors and bathrooms, build sidewalks and a 20’x20′ gazebo for the shelter kids to play on.
The shelter opened in the spring of 1998, with 6 bedrooms, a large dining room, a 20×30 foot indoor playroom with television and CD player to entertain children, bathrooms to accommodate 6 people, plus two showers and two bathtubs. Security systems were installed with cameras to watch and record the outside premises and common areas of the inside of the shelter and a panic button that rings at the Police Department.
Carol continued writing grants to expand services for our clients. What started out as a small 2 bedroom shelter, serving 4 rural counties (Titus, Camp, Morris, and Franklin Counties) with a 1995 total population of about 25,000 residents has expanded into a Shelter and Service network serving 8 rural Northeast Texas Counties, picking up Hopkins, Delta, Lamar, and Red River Counties 15 years ago. The total population of all 8 counties SAFE-T serves has an estimated population of 250,000 people.
SAFE-T operates now with 40+ employees providing full service to victims. SAFE-T’s operational budget is climbing towards $2,000,000 combining State and Federal Grants, along with profits from our Thrift Store plus public and private donations. Our main office is in Mount Pleasant, with satellite offices in Paris, Sulphur Springs, and Clarksville, Texas.
Carol, after 22 years, is still looking for ways to expand and enhance SAFE-T’s services for all victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Every week, we are faced with new situations involving our clients. When a new situation surfaces, Carol begins looking for funding that our other grants do not cover.
Carol has been the Heart and Soul of SAFE-T since its beginning. Her retirement is well earned and well-deserved. SAFE-T would not have prospered and expanded without Carol’s leadership, devotion, and determination. She will forever remain the foundation of everything that embodies SAFE-T and the thousands of victims whose lives are better due to Carol Gresham.