Hope and Healing in Harford County

SARC uses human services grant to renovate space and rebuild lives


SARC (The Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center) was established in 1978 as a small, grassroots, and volunteer-run program sheltering victims of violence in the homes of Harford County community members. More than forty years later, SARC remains a beacon of hope and a source of support for approximately 1,500 victims, potential victims, and survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, and stalking on an annual basis. Through free-of-charge, confidential services ranging from counseling, legal advocacy and representation, case management, education, and housing, SARC provides the necessary tools for victims to create pathways for moving forward emotionally, physically, and financially.

A Safehouse Reborn

On average, a person may attempt to leave an abusive relationship up to seven times before succeeding. While this statistic reflects various underlying factors, SARC’s CEO Luisa Caiazzo shared that many victims perceive the decision to leave as a tradeoff between securing their physical safety and sacrificing appropriate housing. Constructed in the 1950s and last renovated in 1996, SARC’s Phelan Safehouse was reflective of this tradeoff – offering safety but little in the way of privacy, amenities, and access to trauma-informed healing spaces for therapy and childcare/play.

To address this, SARC launched a two-phase Capital Campaign, raising $5.2M with the goals of expanding the existing space and improving safety features all while highlighting designs promoting well-being and healing. Phase one of the expansion not only increased the number of available beds from 28 to 40, but also redesigned the rooming into an apartment-like spaces, providing greater privacy for victims. Phase two of the renovation, funded in part by the Knott Foundation, helped to build a new, highly secure private entrance with an airlock to the administrative and outpatient service offices.

Feeling Safe and Standing Strong

Family wellness and healing were the drivers behind the project, the outcome of which – a fully renovated space – opened to clients in May 2023. Safehouse Director Sierra Keys shared, “When we were finally able to move the clients into the space it was incredible to see the differences in how they interacted with the building versus what I remembered from what feels like a lifetime ago. We now have the space our clients deserve, a space that meets their needs and that we, as staff, can be proud to bring new clients into on what is usually the worst day of their lives.”

Luisa added, “The renovated space offers ten suites for living rather than open bunkbeds, spacious communal kitchens with individual storage, a pet shelter, exercise room, craft room, outdoor playground, and more.” Victims seeking assistance no longer need to experience the tradeoff between safety and suitable accommodation in Harford County.

Building on the Foundation

Nala came to SARC after her husband, in a fit of rage, tried to intentionally crash the family’s car with Nala and their four young kids in it. Nala and her kids were able to escape with minor physical wounds, but while being evaluated at the hospital, the ER nurses realized that Nala needed help they couldn’t provide and connected her with SARC. Nala was able to spend the next few months working, battling her abuser in divorce and custody court, legally removing herself from their shared home, and cleaning up her credit. In the next few weeks, she and her children will be moving into their own home.

According to data from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV), the number of intimate partner violence (IPV) related deaths in 2021 was 58, its highest level in 17 years; this reality continues to persist, and Nala’s story is just one of many.

The renovated Phalen Safehouse’s presence in Harford County played a pivotal role in Nala’s ability to address the abuse, work on herself, protect her children, and move forward in a safe and uplifting environment. Of the project Luisa stated, “this legacy project will forever be a beacon of hope to survivors seeking refuge in Harford County.” Strong survivors like Nala are a testament to this statement.