FRIENDS, originally named “Friends for Battered Women,” began programming in 1978 with three volunteers who answered a 24-hour crisis line and provided short-term shelter for women and children that were in immediate crisis. The annual budget was set at $5,000.
In 1986, the organization changed its name to Friends of Abused Families and the agency opened up its first emergency shelter by renting a house in Barton.
In 1988, FRIENDS purchased the current shelter and support services facility. Originally, the space housed up to 12 individuals. Renovations have continued throughout subsequent years and currently there are a total of 20 beds available to individuals and children. Shelter residents have access to support twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week.
In response to program evaluation and feedback from clients, in 1994 FRIENDS expanded its legal program and hired a legal advocate to attend charging conferences, assist with restraining orders, and provide legal information and service representation.
Additionally, in 1994 FRIENDS started its Transitional Living Program (TLP) which is designed as a bridge to self-sufficiency and permanent housing. The program strives to empower individuals and families to achieve independence through enhancing independent living skills, maintaining income, and building a strong family unit while in a violent-free environment.
In 1996, FRIENDS began offering support services to victims of sexual violence. Program elements include individual advocacy, emergency shelter, support groups, medical and legal advocacy, and prevention education for youth and adults.
As of 1998, the agency’s budget and client population had seen tremendous growth. The annual budget was $333,000, and the number of clients served was 524.
FRIENDS completed a major renovation in 2004, making the shelter facility completely accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. Additional office space was created on the upper level to allow for larger living space in the shelter’s communal areas.
In 2008, FRIENDS celebrated their 30th anniversary! Revealing Pearls of Hope was held at West Bend Mutual Prairie Center with guest speaker Teri Jendusa Nicolai.
In 2012, FRIENDS prevention education program became active in all school districts at most grade levels. The interactive curriculum is a way to educate students about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, what constitutes sexual assault, sexual harassment, abuse, the use of technology, bystander intervention, and gender violence as a whole.
In 2013, FRIENDS again expanded its legal program to include a full-time family law attorney to assist victims with divorce, separation, child custody and placement and child support.
In 2018 FRIENDS is celebrating its 40th anniversary! The agency has changed the name to FRIENDS Inc. and is now a public location. Additionally, the agency has expanded to offer full services to all gender identities. We have always provided services to those who identify as male, but previously we had not provided onsite shelter services.