Helping the Most Vulnerable

Priest River Ministries opens Sandpoint office.

By Patty Hutchens

Terrified, isolated, helpless. These are just a few of the emotions that sexual abuse and domestic violence victims experience on a daily basis. And it does not discriminate. It happens to people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels. It is a horrific experience from which many never recover. But thanks to an amazing group of people in North Idaho, that does not have to be the case for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in our area. There is help.

Priest River Ministries Advocates for Women first started in 2002 as a Bible study support group for women who were victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. They received their nonprofit status in 2006 and opened their first shelter, “Ruth’s House,” in 2009. Today, they have expanded to a total of three shelters – Ruth's House, Esther's House and Rebekah's Room.

“We can shelter four families at a time, around 20 women and children at one time,” explained Executive Director Rhonda Encinas. “Esther's is an extended stay shelter. Intact families in crisis and abused men are welcomed at Rebekah's Room when it is available.”

As a testimony to their mission of encouraging women, all the shelters are named after strong women in the Bible.

But don’t let the name Priest River Ministries mislead you; the group serves victims from Bonner, Boundary and the northern part of Kootenai Counties. “And truth be told, we have taken women from Washington, Montana, Southern Idaho, Florida and California,” said Encinas.

Because abuse happens anytime day or night, Priest River Ministries has a crisis line that victims can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also offer victim services, court advocacy, ongoing support groups, client transportation, education on domestic and sexual violence, paralegal assistance, emergency and extended stay shelters, mobile advocacy, a learning lab with computers and printers, biblical and secular counseling, child care, food and clothing at Lydia’s free clothing store, and household supplies.

In an effort to better serve those in North Idaho, Priest River Ministries recently expanded and opened an office in Sandpoint on May 16. Located in the Pioneer Building at 819 Highway 2, the Sandpoint office is open Mondays 9am to noon, Tuesday through Thursdays 1 to 4pm.  “Having an office makes it more convenient, confidential and because we have a childcare room, it is less stressful,” said Encinas.

And as funding and volunteers increase, the organization hopes to open additional offices.

“Priest River is our main office and is open five days per week 9am to 4pm in the winter and 9am to 5pm in the summer,” said Encinas. “Our mobile advocate drives to outreach locations each week where she has been meeting clients in Spirit Lake, Sandpoint, Blanchard, Sagle and beyond. Sometime she meets them in coffee shops and sometimes in their homes.”

Services such as clothing, supplies and diapers are always open to the public. And for those needing shelter, Encinas said the group primarily shelters women and children of domestic violence, sexual assault or trafficking. “But we have sheltered single men, men with children and intact families in crisis when we had availability,” she said. “We help families in need regardless of age, religion or ethnicity.”

Help is just a phone call away. Victims can access services any time day or night by contacting the office or crisis line. Paralegal help is available by appointment and Encinas will assist in scheduling counseling appointments.

Priest River Ministries does not receive any government funding. In order to help support the incredible work this group is doing, 7B Women, a committee of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, is holding a fundraiser on June 16 at the Bernd Barrel in downtown Sandpoint.

The Summer Clothes Swap is a chance to clean out your closet and donate your new and gently used items. Prior to the event, they can be dropped off at Washington Trust Bank, Selle Valley Construction in Ponderay, and Sandpoint Title Insurance. Then, on June 16, come do the Bernd Barrel at 5:30pm. For an entrance fee of $10 you will have the chance to enjoy a no-host bar and choose from an array of dresses, skirts, shorts, jackets, accessories and more! There is no charge for the items you choose!

“Priest River Ministries Advocates for Women has been assisting women in receiving the services they need locally for several years behind the scenes,” said 7B Women committee member and organizer of the event Alice Sloane of Washington Trust Bank. “7B Women chose to help fundraise for Priest River Ministries Advocates for Women’s new location because we believe in connecting women with the resources they need to be successful individuals in our community. Opening a new facility in Sandpoint will increase the variety of services offered and make them more readily available for local women and their families.“

Priest River Ministries is doing much to build relationships with women and encourage them on their journey of well being. If you or someone you know is in need of their services, contact them at the Crisis Hotline number 208.290.6529 or their office number of 208.448.2800.

If you cannot make the fundraiser but would like to donate, please contact Priest River Ministries. “Our biggest need is currently funding,” said Encinas. “We are financially stable for six months in Sandpoint minus a computer. A computer would be the next need.”