BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Meredith Everhart, July 18, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Title:
Interview with Meredith Everhart, July 18, 2008
Date:
July 18, 2008
Description:
Interview with Meredith Everhart, Brunswick County attorney. Here, she discusses her work in the Office of the District Attorney and with the domestic violence community.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Everhart, Meredith Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 7/18/2008 Series: SENC Volunteers Length 60 minutes

Jones: Today is Friday, July 18th, 2008. I'm Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Program. We're in the Helen Hagan Room of Special Collections. We're very pleased to have as our guest this afternoon, Meredith Everhart, Brunswick County attorney. We're going to let her tell you what she does in that field, a volunteer extraordinaire, and a super mom from what I hear. So we're going to ask her to talk about some of things she does that benefit other people. And all I have to say to you is thanks, at last, for making the time to be with us today. You are important.

Everhart: No problem. You're welcome.

Jones: Meredith, tell us a little about you, where you're from, education, interests and what makes Meredith run. How did you decide on the law, is it in your family, and just all of the other things that you do.

Everhart: That's a loaded question. I'll try to start it again and you tell me...

Jones: Start it again.

Everhart: I grew up in the middle part of the state in Burlington, North Carolina. I was born and raised there, went to high school in Guilford County. My father was a high school coach, so we actually went, you know, we lived in Alamance County, we went to school in Guilford County where he was-- coached football and taught school. I graduated from high school there. I went to undergraduate school at North Carolina State. I majored in philosophy there at NC State and then went to law school at Carolina. I met my husband when I was a freshman at NC State. He was a year, about a year, or two years ahead of me at the time. We got married. It took me about four-and-half years to graduate college because I'd worked and put myself through college. I actually worked through the coop program. And so I worked a semester through the school and then I went to school a semester, and then went to a school over the summer or paid for the summer which everyone said, so that I could pay myself through school. So it took me about four-and-half years to graduate. After four years, though, we got married. While I was still in school, he had already graduated. And then I graduated the following December and then started law school at Carolina the next fall. And so we had our first child. I've got two daughters, they are ages seven and nine, Hannah [ph?] and Emma [ph?]. And I had Hannah in between m--, the last two semesters of my third year of law school.

Jones: How did you do it?

Everhart: The Lord was looking out for me. I actually had her right as our winter-- we were getting ready to start exams in between the first and second semesters of my third year in law school. I had her the first week of December. She was born December 4th, and so I had basically a month off because we were out of school that whole time. And so I came back and I had to take my first semester's exams the beginning of the second semester, but really I didn't miss any time and got to have, you know, about the first month off with her. But then I hard to turn around and after graduating, had to study for the bar with a six-month old. So, that was really more of challenge then.

Jones: I'm never going to complain again.

Everhart: That was more of challenge, I think, than making it through law school was studying for the bar exam with...

Jones: What was your husband doing all this time?

Everhart: My husband's an engineer. And so he had a job in Raleigh and we were living in Durham. And so he was working during the day and then he would come home and then take care of her at night so that I could study. So that's how we made it through there. In-between my second and third years in law school, I had come to Wilmington to basically intern in the district attorney's office in Wilmington.

Jones: In Wilmington. When was that?

Everhart: That was in between my second and third year...

Jones: What years?

Everhart: ...of law school, 1998, because I graduated in May of 1999. So it would be the summer of 1998. And my husband actually grew up, at least partially, in Wilmington. He wasn't born in Wilmington, he was born in Charleston. But all of his family is from either New Hanover or Brunswick County. And so he grew up a lot of the time down here and he always wanted to get back down to the beach, to Wilmington, because he really-- this is where he considered home to be. And so that's why I took the job interning in the DA's office down here in hopes that I could get my foot in the door and maybe get a job down here when I graduated. The attorney that I worked with in the district attorney's office was handling all of the domestic violence cases. They have a domestic violence unit in the DA's office. And it was under a grant at the time through, I believe, the administrative office of the courts of the state. So I worked with that prosecutor doing domestic violence cases. Never done domestic violence cases before, never been interested in domestic violence cases before. But I did that with her, and by the time I graduated she had-- around the same time that I graduated, the attorney that I had worked with was leaving. And so there was an opening in the DA's office. And the district attorney at the time called me and asked me if I wanted to fill that slot. So it worked out, it was perfect timing.

Jones: At that time, the DA was?

Everhart: John Carriker. And I worked in the district attorney's office here in Wilmington for four-and-a-half years. I started out doing domestic violence cases, but I also did, you know, regular misdemeanors and traffic court and that type of thing. And by the time I left here after four-and-half years I was up in superior court doing mostly drug and property crimes by the time I left.

Jones: When you say left, you left Wilmington?

Everhart: No, just left the DA's office. I stayed here. I took another job working with a civil defense law firm doing civil law instead of criminal. And I did that for about three-and-a-half years. And I guess the motivation for changing jobs at the time was that the DA's office was my first job out of law school and I just wanted to make sure that I was, you know, wasn't selling myself short, you know, wanted to make sure I had-- I was in the right field because, you know, when you work for the government, you know, once you've been doing it for quite-- for so long, I mean if you stay in the DA's office for 10, 15, 20 years, you're there for life. You know, because it just works out that way.

Jones: It seems that way.

Everhart: I mean, that's the skill set that you have developed. And, you know, other big law firms, you know, would have to completely retrain you from scratch and so you're not really marketable, you know, after you've been in the DA's office for quite so long, unless you want to hang our your own shingle and be a criminal defense attorney, which I didn't want to do. And so I figured I would go ahead and while I was still, you know, young and able to change jobs, I'd go ahead and try something new. So I tried that and did that for about three-and-half years. And it was a good experience. It was not really what I was cut out for, though. I think in the end...

Jones: What did you hope to do with your law when you were going through school with it?

Everhart: I originally thought that I wanted to be in a DA's office. And so, you know, I kind of thought that's probably where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in court, you know, I like being in court in front of a jury, that type. But I didn't know if maybe I could get that same result working for a civil firm. I didn't really know what all that entailed and so I wanted to kind of give that a shot and see if I could get the same kind of fulfillment out of doing that job as I could being in the DA's office. And I don't really think that I did. It was mostly sitting behind a desk and dealing with clients as opposed to defendants or victims.

Jones: Little things, sometimes?

Everhart: Yeah. And it was a lot of paperwork and a lot of handholding, and neither of which I'm specifically designed for, I don't think. But it was a good thing I think in the sense that, it obviously pays a lot better than working for the state. So I was able to pay off all of my law school loans...

Jones: Good girl.

Everhart: ...which were a lot when you're married and then had a baby. And so they were pretty significant even though I was at Chapel Hill. Having that job allowed me to pay off all my law school loans and kind of...

Jones: Now this is when you're doing civil law?

Everhart: Right. And so, you know, allowed us to kind of get out of debt and pay off a bunch of bills. And so it was really helpful in that sense. However, I was working about 80 hours a week and I...

Jones: Well you didn't have to submit billable hours, did you?

Everhart: Yes. And so you have to work about 80 to bill about 40. And so that's usually how it works. And my youngest daughter is seven now, and so I had her while I was still in the DA's office originally. My kids now just finished the first and third grades. I was never home. I wouldn't getting home till 9:00 at night. They were already in bed. My husband was having to work a full-time job as well as take care of the kids, and it wasn't really fair to him either. So even though I was bringing home, you know, more money than he was at the time, I didn't feel like...

Jones: The quality of life.

Everhart: Right. After about three years, we kind of figured that that wasn't going to work long-term because my kids aren't going to remember my occupation, they're going to remember whether I was at their ballgames and dance recitals and...

Jones: Ballet and swimming.

Everhart: ...things like that. Right. You know, they really missed me. And I think that what really kind of set my mind to, you know, going back into the public sector instead of the private was one night-- well, one day at school my oldest daughter got sick. And I had to come and pick her up from school because my husband had a meeting at work. And so I picked her up from school and she asked me, was I going to take her to her grandma's, because, you know, they live right down the road from us. They were about a mile from our house, my husband's parent's are. And I said, "No, baby, I'll just stay home with you the rest of the day." And she was as sick as she could be and she said, "Well, why don't you just take me to grandma's?" And I said, "Well, why do you want to go grandma's instead?" And she said, "Because if you stay home with me, you'll have to work late another night." And so when I...

Jones: Oh, enough to kill you.

Everhart: When I realized that my kids were-- you know, when my seven year old at the time, when she knows that if mommy takes any time off, mommy has to make it up, you know, somewhere else, it takes away from her, you know, that was when I kind of clued into the fact that I was probably working a little too much and that I needed to be home a little bit more. So that's when I decided to kind of switch jobs and started looking for other things. And then, I had a friend who had worked with me in the DA's office in New Hanover County who actually lived in Columbus County. But she had always been coming over the bridge from Whiteville everyday to work in New Hanover County and had eventually gotten a job. While I was doing civil work, she had gotten a job in the DA's office in Brunswick County, which was-- or actually she was in Columbus County now, but it's Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus. And so I kind of asked to her to put her ear down to the ground and see if anything came open, to let me know, to kind of get my way back in the door. There weren't any openings at the time in New Hanover County. And so she did, and she let me know when there was an opening that was going to come available here. And I contacted Mr. Gore who was the DA in Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus and we were able to work out something to get me into the DA's office there. I initially started out just in district court, which was kind of a step down from where I had wound up, but, you know, it was with the understanding that that was kind of, in order to get me in the door in a position in the office. And then, as other things became available, then I would move into those. And so I was really only in district court for a few months before...

Jones: Okay, this is Brunswick, Columbus and...

Everhart: Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus. I'm only in Brunswick County, and they're separate.

Jones: So you don't travel that much?

Everhart: No.

Jones: It's one heck of a growing county?

Everhart: It is. Brunswick County is...

Jones: Last census I saw, and there's been once since then, but I don't have the figures on it, it was one of the top five fastest growing in the country.

Everhart: And I think it has been for the last several years and it's continuing to grow.

Jones: It's Long Island South.

Everhart: Right. Exactly, exactly. And so it's growing really fast. But the office that I'm in now, it's just wonderful and I'm really enjoying it there. So I think it's a little bit of a drive for me because I actually live in Ogden. And so I have to go, you know, over the bridge to Bolivia every day, but it's about 35 of 40 minutes drive which is-- really if you think about it, if I took a job in Carolina Beach, it would be the same as if I took a job in Carolina Beach or Monkey Junction or somewhere like that. So it's really not that bad, but with gas prices they way they are, it's kind of getting crazy.

Jones: Just think if you were in Washington, D.C. or any of those metro areas, how much time you'd spend in traffic. There was an opening. Was the opening in the field that you're in right now, criminal law?

Everhart: In Brunswick County?

Jones: Mm-hm.

Everhart: Right. It was in the DA's office. It's just that they had a position. The assistant DA who was handling all of their district court, which is traffic court and misdemeanors and that type of thing, she was moved up to superior court because they got a new position through the legislature last summer for another DA. And so she moved up to superior court, so they had an opening, a vacancy, in the district court area. So I moved into the district court area, and then within about four months moved up to superior court to what I'm doing now.

Jones: You like it?

Everhart: I do. I do. At the moment, I handle all offenses involving child abuse and sexual offense. And so I handle of the sex offense cases in Brunswick County.

Jones: Doesn't that break your heart though?

Everhart: It does, but it's really rewarding. At the end of the day, I know that I am, you know, getting people off the street that don't need to be there. And, you know, I feel good about what I do at night. You know, I come home at the end of the day and I know that I've done something good.

Jones: When you read in the newspaper or hear on the news, watch the news, and they report on these things, do you feel they're doing a good job getting across to the public?

Everhart: When they report about my specific cases or just when they're reporting about criminal cases?

Jones: About the criminal cases. They could be your specific cases, without mentioning your names or anything like that.

Everhart: No, they talk about me plenty. But the news outlets in Brunswick County do a really good job because a lot of times, the South Port Pilot, the Brunswick Beacon, they have reporters who are assigned to the courtroom that, you know, come to court during our trial.

Jones: Star News has a big office down there now.

Everhart: They do, but they're still mostly a Wilmington kind of outfit. And so with the Star News, they will call us when they hear about things that are going on in Brunswick County. But they don't have the same presence that the local papers up there do. I mean, they try to stay on top of things as much as they can.

Jones: Let me ask you now, this is really a special personality, I think, that can handle that kind of thing. And then you go home to children. How much time do you have for your kids now? Are you able to see them more often?

Everhart: A lot more. They're very happy.

Jones: That's good.

Everhart: They noticed a difference right away. And that's one of things I told them when I was changing jobs, was that I'd be able to be home a lot more. They're very happy.

Jones: So you're on a busman's holiday by now being very much involved with Domestic Violence Shelter and Services here in Wilmington, in New Hanover County. This came after you became involved in Brunswick County or was it sort of dovetail somehow?

Everhart: Originally, I was working on a grant from the Domestic Violence Unit in New Hanover County when we first moved here, and I started working for New Hanover County. As part of that, there is a domestic violence advocacy council. And they bring together different members from the community, from all the different forms of law enforcement, domestic violence shelter, the DA's office, judges, the Department of Social Services, that type of thing. It's kind of a round table group to address how we are advocating for domestic violence victims and how the system that handles those victims is addressing their needs and how that could change. So as part of that group, Mr. Carriker had asked me to go and sit and be a member of the domestic violence advocacy council. So I did, and they had monthly meetings, and I would go to those meetings. And I was part of that group for about two years, initially. Actually, it was probably more like three years. And after being on that-- involved in that group for three years, I was asked by the director of the domestic violence shelter, Marianne Llama [ph?], if I would be interested in being on the board of directors for the domestic violence shelter. And I told her that I would be. And so for the last six years, five to six years, I've been an active member on the board and I'm actually president of the board of directors now. And so it's been a total of about nine years that I've been involved in the domestic violence community, originally through the DA's office. But even after I left the DA's office, through the board of directors at the domestic violence shelter. That's how I've kind of initially got involved with them and then stayed involved today.

Jones: Well I think they're very fortunate to have someone like you who's got both the legal experience and the background, the knowledge, too. I want to come back to that, because that is quite a subject. And unfortunately, I think there's too much of it all over the country, not just here in sleepy little Wilmington, as my husband used to call it. He grew up here, left, said he'd never come back to that sleep little town, but here full-blast.

Everhart: He's here.

Jones: He's here full-blast. My understanding is that you're very involved with other activities involving children, your own children. Can you talk about that?

Everhart: Well, my children are I guess like most other young children. They're seven and nine, and so they're involved in lots of different things, swimming through the YMCA. They generally swim year-round on a competitive team with the Y. And then they also dance, and they are on the traveling team for dance.

Jones: That's what I think that I heard about.

Everhart: Right. Well, most of their traveling is usually in the spring, so they practice all through the fall and do most of their competitions which are mostly in the southern part, southeastern part of the state. And so we travel most weekends from, you know, January to April, doing dance competitions all over the place.

Jones: And what's the name of that group?

Everhart: Dance Quest [ph?]. They are really into dancing and they love to swim. And my youngest daughter is also into soccer. And I think that they're both going to probably also play soccer this fall and see how that goes.

Jones: Where are they in school?

Everhart: They're both at Ogden Elementary. They keep us hopping.

Jones: Yeah, I know, and they'll continue to.

Everhart: They will. It won't get any better.

Jones: No, it won't. It just costs more money, that's all. I had thought that I had a piece that was published not terribly long ago, it could have been the last six months, where you either chaired or were involved with something having to do with some children's issues on a more pleasant thing. Maybe it was just something on this Dance Quest and your name was mentioned. No?

Everhart: I'm not sure. I mean every year we do the-- involving domestic violence, we have our annual fashion show that we're involved in. And so I know about that, but I'm not sure what the other issue would be, other than initially when I started working at the DA's office, there was an article in the paper about, you know, the fact that I would be working with domestic violence victims then as well. When I first started in the DA's office in Brunswick County, I was also involved doing DV cases there. I'm still handling, you know, handling some of those cases now.

Jones: Meredith, not asking for any names or anything like that, could you take us through the role of the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services here? I'm learning about it, more and more. It's a good idea. It's needed. But this is a group that's known. I know they exist but they're a little bit silent because they have to be. For example, how are people referred to the domestic violence shelter? Do they come on their own? Is it a network where they can come on their own, they are referred, does the court do it, do doctors, do neighbors? Tell us a little bit about how somebody comes to your or you get hold of them, an intake situation.

Everhart: There are a lot of different ways that victims or families come to the shelter. The court systems is one way. A lot of times they will come in to fill out a domestic violence protective order because there's been an incident and they need a protective order to get protection from their abuser. When that happens and they come into the clerk's office and they get the paperwork to fill out that form, attached to that form is an information packet and a card for the shelter. And so they get information that way about the shelter that they can access. There's also a court advocate for the shelter who is involved in the hearings to get the protective orders in the sense that they sit there with the victims and are a shoulder for them to kind of lean on as they go through the process of obtaining the protective order. That person works for the shelter, and so they can discuss with them whatever forms of help or assistance that they might need. So they kind of have a personal contact through that way. So a lot of the referrals come through the court system. However...

Jones: Is this through Social Services as well?

Everhart: Social Services can refer and sometimes would. But a lot of clients that are involved with Social Services kind of shy away from getting involved in the court system, too, sometimes depending on what services they're getting through DSS, especially if it's housing and that type of thing. Those things can be in jeopardy if you're, you know, depending on what your abuser, you know, does to you. And so the DSS does refer and also we have a great network. The hospital and doctors' offices, you know, throughout the county put up flyers, the little tear-off flyers in all of the restrooms at the doctors' offices and...

Jones: Yeah, we have them here.

Everhart: Right. And all over the hospital, the university, that ask you, "Are you being hurt?" And they give the number for the shelter and you just tear off the little strips at the bottom. And so people know about the shelter and the phone number that way. We also have our main office, the Open Gate, that is on Market Street across from the YMCA. That's not where the shelter itself is, but people can go there to get information about the shelter and can go through kind of a screening process.

Jones: I was going to ask you about the screening process over an angry wife or husband or child, and something that is for sure. I'm sure you have professionals. Are you involved in the screening process?

Everhart: No, no, no, no. They have professionals who work both at the shelter itself and at the shelter office that are employed by the shelter, and they will screen in those people.

Jones: How about doctors? Do they refer at all?

Everhart: Do doctors refer to the shelter?

Jones: Yes.

Everhart: Yes, well, and especially through the little tear-off portions. A lot of the times, if people will see those in the doctor's office that'll make them feel more comfortable, like they can talk to their doctor about what's going on. In the hospital, they have nurses that are specifically trained to ask at the intake process, "Are you being hurt? Is somebody hurting you?" And so a lot of times they will come in through that. And also, at the emergency room, if there's an issue that the doctors and nurses feel like is clearly a domestic violence issue, they're required to report that to DSS, at which point, you know, there's a referral made at that point too. So there are lots of different ways to get referred to the shelter. And then, you know, they go through a screening process and I believe that, in general, on a monthly basis, the shelter assists over 150 men, women and children. And there are men that are involved too. There are generally at least two or three every month that they assist. Sometimes they are elderly men that are being abused by family caretakers or, you know, any other situation. But they're involved too. But many of the women to come to the shelter have children or multiple children. And so I believe that just this past month, the average number of people in the shelter at any given time, I believe was around nine or ten. And so, that's on a consistent basis, at least nine or ten people in the shelter on any given day.

Jones: Have records been kept? I'm sure there have, as to whether you've seen a growth in this sort of thing in the last several years or as times goes on, during peaks and valleys of economic lows of whatever it is.

Everhart: I don't know that there's necessarily been any increase as far as Wilmington or southeastern North Carolina in domestic violence. Generally, there's usually a general spike over the summer, over the summer months, just because it's hot and that type of thing. There's usually a little bit of a spike over the summer in general. Economic problems, although they're not the cause of domestic violence, it seems like in bad economic times...

Jones: It's an excuse to use.

Everhart: ... then, you know, people lose their jobs, are under more stress and in situations that are already volatile, can become more volatile. Just like with alcohol, you know, stress or bad economics, those are not reasons for domestic violence. The reason for domestic violence is something inside those individuals that causes them to beat their wife or girlfriend or whoever it is. You know, just because you're stressed out, you don't go and hit your boss. The person that they wind up hitting is, you know, their significant other. And so those things might contribute to creating a situation that's more volatile, but they're not the root cause of domestic violence.

Jones: As both an attorney that's been working in this field and also your number of years with Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, do you find that there's any truth to the fact that if a man or a woman threatens another person, you think it might be for attention, but if they continue to do it, they may very well do it, in other words, harm somebody?

Everhart: I think in my line of work we take any kind of threat seriously. There are usually some indicator signs about whether you think somebody will actually follow through. Usually the person that's in the relationship with that individual, you know, has a better idea because they know them, as to whether not they'll actually follow through. But, you know, domestic violence is not about alcohol or drugs or, you know, what somebody did or what made you mad, it's about power and control over another individual. And so that's what we try to focus on. And so by making those threats, the person making those threats is trying to assert some control over somebody, get them to do something that they want them to do or not do by making those threats. And so we take all of them seriously because whether or not they actually follow through, they're still, you know, trying to control another person by making those threats.

Jones: Even with the increase of population, you're saying that, well you didn't say it. You've heard...

Everhart: I don't think it's increased dramatically. It's not increased out of line with the population increase, as far as the percentages that we see in the population, from what I can tell. But it's also not decreased, which is the bigger problem, which is what we fight against every day, is trying to get it to go down. Domestic violence wasn't an issue that was really addressed much anywhere until the 1980s. And around here, must later than that because when domestic violence was first addressed, it was mostly out west. The movement started in San Diego and in California and those areas. And so, you know, most of your experts in the domestic violence field today are still out in those areas because they've been doing it for 20 years and nobody else has. So it wasn't until the early to mid-'90s that, you know, Wilmington and southeastern North Carolina really started coming onboard with the domestic violence movement and realizing that it's a big issue that we need to address. So even though, you know, the shelter has been around for more than 25 years, the issue itself has not been one of, you know, great political or civic concern for most people until the last 10 to 15 years. So really what we're working on now is, you know, to keep it from rising and, you know, to try and chip away and see if we can get it to go down.

Jones: And this is through awareness?

Everhart: Awareness and education.

Jones: Involving the public.

Everhart: Right, because, you know, if the whole community doesn't realize that it's an issue, then, you know, if it's just a couple of politicians that think it's important or if it's just a couple of people that work at the shelter or whatever, then you're not going to get anywhere until there's general knowledge about what's going on. I know that my church did a fund raiser. We had a worship concert that the benefits went to the domestic violence shelter. And in the course of that event, you know, I had an opportunity to speak to the congregation, the people that were there for the event, and told them about the numbers of how many people the shelter had served over the past month, in the past year. And when I mentioned that they served over 150 people in the previous month, you could kind of hear a collective, like, (gasp) I didn't realize it was that big of an issue in our sleepy little town, you know, like your husband said. But it is a big issue and I think that it's become a more-- that people have become much more aware of the issue of domestic violence in Wilmington in the last several years with several prominent murders, including one-- you know, several involving UNCW students and one involving realtor, Gail Tice. And those murders, I think, between the last five years, have really brought to the forefront what an issue it is and the point that it's not a class issue. It's not just something that happens with lower class people. It's something that spreads throughout all classes and all ethnic backgrounds and all education backgrounds. And so I think that Wilmington is really starting to come onboard with that. We've got several efforts now, the shelter's attempting to start-- has started an elder abuse program as well to address the domestic violence needs in the elderly community. They're also working on a new group that they're forming to address the needs of the Hispanic community, which is a community that has a very different cultural view of the issue of domestic violence. And so you kind of have to address it from a different perspective because some things that you and I would see as socially unacceptable by any standards are the norm in some cultures. And so, trying to address it from...

Jones: On that subject, have you run into any opposition to expend time, money, effort and so forth with the Hispanic community? There's such a to-do nationwide over illegals in our county and how much they cost us, the taxpayers, et cetera. Trish Doyle, you probably know her, doing wonderful work with the clinics, she says they don't turn anybody away, if they're ill, they're people, they're welcome. They just can't have insurance anywhere. Have you found at all yet, or do you expect to find any opposition to the fact that now the shelter is going to include a group specifically to administer to the Hispanics because of this situation?

Everhart: You never know...

Jones: I'm talking in 2008 terms, because this interview, with everything else we do, is going to be around for awhile and it's for those to look back and see.

Everhart: Right. I don't know because they're really just getting started. I can't forecast any specific problems or, you know, hurtles that they're going to have right now. But I do know that, you know, it's kind of like the hospitals like you were just saying, that, you know, these women who come to the shelter who need assistance to get out of domestic violence relationship, that's an immediate emergent need. That's kind of something that you have to triage and worry about the rest later. I think that the court systems can step in, in that if these-- the abusers are illegal, then, you know, there's an opportunity there to, you know, have them deported. I know that a lot of the cases that I deal with involving sex offenses, I do have several that involve Hispanic males. And they'll either leave the country to avoid, you know, prosecution or as a result of prosecution, will be deported. So I think that the main issue that will face this group is whether or not these women will actually come to get help, because I think...

Jones: Because of their culture?

Everhart: No, because their bread and butter, despite the fact that he may be abusing them, is the man who is their abuser. And if he is deported, then they are left here by themselves, no income, no skills, maybe not speaking English, with multiple children and no way to support themselves. And so really coming and getting involved in a criminal process, at least, can result in very difficult situation for them because they could wind up alone in a country where they are, you know, just helpless to really fend for themselves. And so I think that that will be one of the big hurtles that they will have. Undocumented people have a tough time coming forward for help in any type of situation because they're afraid somebody's going to find out that they, you know, don't have documentation and are illegal, but, you know, especially I think in this situation. But the shelter itself, sometimes the shelter and the courts have opposite views of how things should be handled. But our shelter here has a really good relationship with the court system and the shelter itself, you know, it doesn't force anybody to take out criminal charges. It'll obviously, you know, assist them if they do and provide an advocate for them when they go to court. You know, the DA's office has a specific domestic violence unit to handle all those cases, so there are people to help them. But, you know, they're not ever forced to go forward with those things. But it's difficult, as far as the courts go, to convince a woman to testify against a man who has abused her when doing so will result in him going to jail and her not having any income. But really though, it's the same problem any woman in a domestic violence situation faces. It's not just a cultural thing with Hispanics, it's-- you know, because most women in a long-term domestic violence relationship, you know, he has kept them in that relationship by, you know, making sure that they are alienated from their friends and family and keeping financial control over everything. And so maybe a lot of the times they will be forced to stay home with the kids or not finish their education. So, a lot of times, you know, the thought of putting them in prison versus the thought of losing their home and, you know, having to fend for themselves...

Jones: What a choice.

Everhart: Yeah, it's not a good choice for anybody.

Malpass: I have a quick question if that's all right.

Jones: Go ahead.

Malpass: Does the shelter offer job placement or financial advice or anything like that for women who maybe haven't worked before or handled their own finances?

Everhart: There are programs that the shelter can refer them to. When they come to stay in the shelter, they have to develop a plan. Part of them staying in the shelter is for them to develop, you know, a plan for what they're going to do when they get out. And so there is somebody in the shelter that will work with them so that they can develop an action plan for what they're going to do, where they're going to go, that type of thing. The shelter has resale shops where they can get clothing and meet basic needs and that type of thing. Sometimes they have funds that they can assist them in getting into public housing while they're getting on their feet. Sometimes they will buy them a bus ticket out of town to go be with family. If they have family out of state that the abuser has isolated them from, they will figure out a way to get them transportation to be with family so that somebody else can help support them. So there are lots of different ways that they-- it just depends on what each individual person needs. But the shelter itself doesn't offer job training, but it's in, it's hooked up to all those services and those community groups that will get you going on that. And then they provide you the clothes from the different resale shops so that you can go and have the job interview and that type of thing.

Jones: Talk about the children of people who have been taken in who are attending school. Does anybody have to speak with the teachers or anything to alert them? It's a touchy situation to have a child go to school who needs to be in school, and then come back to a shelter. Are they told not to say anything?

Everhart: There are arrangements made so that the-- you know, if a child is staying at the shelter so that the abuser doesn't have contact with that child, so that they can't come and snatch them away, which would be one other thing that they would probably have to hold over the mother to get her to come back. And so, you know, transportation arrangements are made so that somebody picks them up and takes them home from school. The shelter obviously is at an undisclosed location. And the school system and the shelter have confidentiality rules in place between them so that you can't just call up and find out, you know, where they are. And it's not part of their public record, you know, the address of the shelter isn't written, you know, on their public record. And so the shelter and the schools very much act together to make sure that the kids stay in school if they're in school, and that they're kind of protected from, you know, anybody finding out where the shelter is or finding out where the kids and the mom are while they're there.

Jones: This is really quite an intensive situation. Meredith, how much of this are you involved in as president of the board? Or how much is the president of the board expected to be involved in, as opposed to how much is Meredith involved in?

Everhart: As president of the board...

Jones: You wanted more time with your children, that's why I'm asking.

Everhart: As president of the board, I'm not really involved in the normal day-to-day activities of the shelter itself. I have been there on several occasions for different reasons, but, you know, I don't go there on a regular basis unless they need me to for some reason. But they have someone that is a full-time staff member who is at the shelter, and they have several part-time and other full-time staff members who work the children who are at the shelter. The shelter itself has staff members to deal with each of those different areas. And so I'm not involved in the day-to-day operations of the shelter. We have monthly board meetings, and the function of the board is oversight of the general running of the shelter. But it's also a fundraising arm, and so mostly what we deal with on a daily basis as a board is the different fundraising opportunities, how we can get more money in so we can get more information out. We deal with the more fundraising end on the day-to-day basis.

Jones: How successful are you in that? Not you personally.

Everhart: Fairly successful, I think. I think that our shelter...

Jones: It's something that should touch everybody.

Everhart: Right. Our shelter manager, or shelter director, Marianne Llama, she had been the director of the shelter the entire time that our shelter has been open, which is over 25 years. And that is unheard of in any job, but especially a job like that. And in my opinion, she kind of has running the organization down to a science, and there is really very little oversight that we have to do as a board because it really just runs so smoothly. You know, I've been exposed to several other domestic violence agencies and I don't think any of them run as well as this one does. We have a very cohesive board, a great fantastic staff, and Marianne's just a wonderful director. And so I don't think it could be run any better than it is now. And the board is very active in fundraising activities throughout the year, not just at one time of the year. We have a lot of fundraising activities from other people that people will do and then donate the money to the shelter, and we're very thankful for that. But we've got a lot of people who do that, and that's where we get a lot of our funds from. We have one yearly fundraiser that the board itself puts on, which is our annual fashion show and silent auction. But the rest of the year, a lot of it is just going out and being a presence at the other fundraising events that other people do for us and then, you know, assisting them any way we can. So as far as the day-to-day operations, the shelter, I really don't have to be involved in too much of that, some personnel or administrative decisions that have to go the president or have to go through the board, but that's not a daily thing.

Jones: It's still a big job. It's a big undertaking. It really and truly is. It does seem that I see occasionally the name appear, along with some others, as recipients of grants or funds that have been raised, which is a very good thing. The awareness seems to be growing. Somebody mentioned to me not long ago that they were thinking of, whether this was just an individual doing the thinking or a group, trying to combine some of the activities into one large all-enveloping type of fundraiser, thinking that perhaps there were so many little ones, that they were draining one another. Never mentioned what it could be, because that's a huge thought right there. What would you like to see happen? Do you think there are too many, that people are spread a little bit thin? Do you need to concentrate more on grants, do you need to concentrate more on one or two huge things per year, separate some of them? In this town there seems there's so many nonprofits right now. You can get drowned with invitations to fundraisers. One of the things that I've noticed, and my husband has noticed, we get these very involved, expensive invitations to fundraiser dinners, complete with gifts at the table. How much money is going for the actual need itself?

Everhart: Right. As far as grants and that type of thing, with regard to the shelter anyway, that's part of the job of the executive director of the shelter. She is our chief grant writer and that's honestly most of what she spends her time on, just general administrative oversight, but then grant writing. And I think that if the money is out there, you should apply for every single grant you can get, because there are actually over 400 nonprofit organizations in New Hanover County at last count,. And so there is a huge competition for funding dollars. But because the shelter has been around for over 25 years, and because we have always been a good partner with the community and with local government, we have been very fortunate to be recipient on a regular basis of a lot of-- of some of those dollars, at least. You know, sometimes that goes down depending on what the economy is, but, you know, we try to apply for everything that we can. And we use every single penny that we get to go towards the shelter and the operations of the shelter. And Domestic Violence Shelter and Services is not just the shelter, I mean there are hundreds of hours each month that gets spent through the full-time employees doing every single thing you could possibly imagine.

Jones: How many full-time employees do you have, do you know?

Everhart: I don't know right now. I'm not sure I could even hazard a guess. But they go into the school systems and teach elementary school children about violence through their Hands Are Not for Hitting campaign. We have another group called Evolve [ph?] that is aimed at, specifically, the prevention aspect as opposed to the, you know, providing services afterwards, trying to prevent them from needing those services in the first place. The workers at the shelter go out everywhere in the community. And so, you know, all the money that we get that comes in, you know, goes to pay for those services, and I think it's really worthwhile. I don't know anything we do that I would just say we could do away with that. And the more that we get in through the grants and different funding, the more we do. It never just sits there. We use every dime that we get. And I think that we're...

Jones: You and your husband and kids ever have a chance to take a vacation together?

Everhart: Not very often. Actually, I did have a chance in October. We did take a vacation, but it was also kind of linked to domestic violence.

Jones: October, how many months ago was that, anyway?

Everhart: This past October I was handling all the domestic violence cases at the DA's office and I had an opportunity to go to the National Conference on Domestic Violence which happened to be held in Disneyworld in Orlando, and so through my job, was able to go to that. And so I attended the conference while my kids went to Disneyworld with my husband. But we did have a really good time for that. So that was my last vacation, was also kind of intertwined with domestic violence.

Jones: Is he a workaholic too?

Everhart: No, not at all. My husband actually has been very fortunate in his job. He is in a working situation where he can do work from home. He's an engineer and his actual time that he has to spend in the office right is really only from about 9:00 to 2:00 every day, and sometimes less than that on Fridays, or depending on how much work they have in. He's in a great working situation right now, so it is just fine with him to be at home with the kids and be able to pick them up from school. And he does most of the carting them around and taking them to, you know, swim practice or soccer practice or dance practice or whatever it is. So he's very lucky.

Jones: Well, you're all fortunate.

Everhart: Yeah. We're very fortunate.

Jones: Absolutely. How long are you allowed to stay on the board as president, how many years, or is there a cut-off period?

Everhart: The terms on the board of directors are one year terms, but they're renewable for up to six years, so you can be on the board for up to six years. This is my sixth year, so I'll be rotating off after this year. You can be president for up to two years. You start out as vice president and then rotate up to that. This is actually on my first year because I didn't-- I wasn't in office as a vice president until later. So I'm only going to serve one term as president. But this is my last year on the board, but you can serve up to two.

Jones: And generally speaking, are people from the board chosen or selected to become president? I would think so.

Everhart: I'm not sure.

Jones: The next president, would that person be from the existing board?

Everhart: The next person to be president will be the vice president, so it's kind of a rotating-- the vice president this year will be president next year. And you can remain on the board for...

Jones: What are you going to do with all of your free time?

Everhart: I don't know that it's going to be all that much less free time. Not with a seven year old and a nine year old, so.

Jones: We have five minutes left, tell me, what would you like to see happen in either what's left of your year or just period, over the next few years?

Everhart: With regard to the domestic violence board?

Jones: With either your job in the DA's office in Brunswick County as far as anything is concerned; regulations, relations with the public to police, whatever. But, Meredith, you're so keyed in and you're so active and become quite an expert. I imagine you go around giving a lot of speeches too, or awareness.

Everhart: I think that with regard to domestic violence, the focus will always be-- and just because I'm rotating off the board will not mean in any way that I'm not going to be involved in the domestic violence community. I wouldn't be surprised if before long I'm on the board for the shelter in Brunswick County. So, you know, it's not going to mean that I'm going to take a backseat with that, but I think that the shelter has a lot of really positive things that are just starting up with regard to the Latino population and elder abuse, and even with the continuing services that they're still building with the people that they're already working with. And I think that I would like to see that momentum keep going because like I said, in the last few years, I think it's gotten a lot more forefront publicity because of several homicides involving domestic violence. And I would like to see that momentum keep going as opposed to, you know, taper off after people kind of tend to forget about those specific incidents. I don't want for there to have to be another homicide for, you know, for it to keep going in an upward trend. So hopefully, that momentum will keep going and not decrease.

Jones: This is an unpleasant subject to deal with but it has to be. And so I have to thank you for spending your time. I feel embarrassed now listening to all of the things you do, banging on you to come in. But at any rate, this does happen. It happens in a community like Wilmington and a lot of others. And I'm just grateful that we have people like you who are committed and knowledgeable.

Everhart: Thank you.

Jones: And how lucky they are to have you because you dovetail in what you do in your private life. I also hope that you and your husband and your children take a big cruise somewhere.

Everhart: That would be nice, but given that I'm now working back for the state again, it might be awhile. It's a little bit of a pay cut.

Jones: Oh well. Thanks an awful lot, Meredith.

Everhart: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Jones: It's amazing what you do. It really and truly is. It's just amazing.

Repository:
UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign