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Matteson man faces reckless homicide charges in fatal Flossmoor car crash

Diane Bedrosian, outgoing executive director
of South Suburban Family Shelter, stands
by a quilt that tells of stories relating
to clients helped by the agency.

(Photo by Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

A farewell party usually includes cake and kind words for a job well done.

Diane Bedrosian doesn’t want the cake when she leaves South Suburban Family Shelter (SSFS) after 32 years on the job. She’s asked friends to save their words of thanks for the organization’s major fundraiser May 7 at Idlewild Country Club.

“I said we have our event—make that my retirement party. There’s a page in the program book ‘Friends of Diane.’ Put your name there,” she told board members.

Bedrosian started as a volunteer, turned into a program coordinator and went on to be the executive director of SSFS for 29 years. When her assignment as a court watcher for the League of Women Voters at the Circuit Court of Cook County Markham branch was up, she decided to be a court advocate for SSFS, an organization she knew nothing about.

After several months as a volunteer, Bedrosian was hired as the court advocacy coordinator. In two short years, she moved up to the executive director’s position. The SSFS governing board recognized her abilities, even though she didn’t meet the qualifications. She was hired on the condition she earn a bachelor’s degree.

“That was the push I needed,” she remembers. Bedrosian earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Governors State University.  “It was a win-win; a wonderful opportunity for me and I’d like to think the agency’s done well under me.”

She manages the nonprofit’s $2 million budget and 63 full- and part-time staff that annually assist between 2,000 to 2,500 victims of domestic violence primarily from the South Suburbs. Calling the agency for assistance is just the first step in what is for many a long and difficult process.

“What we’re trying to do is provide victims information and options. We do not tell them what to do. We’re very careful when we write goals for grants to not say this number of people left their abuser and this number of people got an order of protection because maybe her goal isn’t to leave,” Bedrosian explained. 

“Maybe it’s not a good time for her to leave. Maybe she’s got young kids and she’s pregnant and she’s got no family around. But she needs to have the information; what are her options. What things can she do to save herself,” from harm, Bedrosian said.

“We’re there to talk to her, to be with her, to identify dangers. Some people don’t understand the danger they’re in because they don’t connect all the dots.”

Bedrosian admits it will be hard to step away on her last day, June 3, from a place where she’s spent half her life. As she elaborates on the phases of domestic abuse and work SSFS is doing to assist victims, her affection for the organization, its staff and volunteers comes through.

She credits former football great O.J. Simpson for bringing domestic violence to the forefront after he was tried in 1995 for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.

 “That got people talking about it and it pulled it off of the women’s section of the papers,” and over time into general conversation, Bedrosian said. Today domestic violence is a subject of talk shows, television programs and plays. The country has taken the issue to heart and legislators have written laws to protect the victims, she noted.

Bedrosian is proud of the work she’s done to move the organization forward.

When she first started at SSFS, it offered four services: a hotline, court advocacy, counseling for adults and children and emergency shelter.

Those basics are in place and supplemented by a host of services: specialty counseling for children living in domestic abuse situations; programs in high schools on teen dating; school-based violence prevention programs; an abuser intervention program coordinated with the courts; medical and hospital advocacy; community outreach; professional trainings for police, fire and various organizations. All services are offered in English and Spanish.

“It’s grown a lot.  It’d be even better if throughout the world we could eliminate domestic violence and we wouldn’t be here,” she stressed. Still, she can look back and know that her work has helped so many.

“We’ve made things better. Are their lives perfect? No. Are they still going to struggle? Yes. Are their lives better? Yes. So we’ve helped,” she said.

 

 

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