Joyce Mahr set to retire in September

By Colleen Michele Jones

St. Augustine Record

After a 25-year tenure with the Betty Griffin Center, CEO Joyce Mahr has announced her retirement effective Sept. 30.

Serving a quarter of a century in one position is a feat for any career, but especially now as the long-standing St. Augustine-based nonprofit has expanded into serving such a vital role in the community with its wide-ranging services for women and families in crisis, many instituted under Mahr’s watch.

The agency has begun a nationwide search for Mahr’s successor, with the help of a committee overseen by its board of directors.

Mahr, who began her career in the finance industry, first became involved with Betty Griffin when she signed up as a shelter coordinator to do work on the side.

The agency provides protection and services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, as well as their minor children, offering shelter, assistance, counseling and transitional support when survivors need it most.

Mahr said one thing she has learned in all her years with the organization is that “it [violence and abuse] does not discriminate; it’s everywhere.”

While the stigma surrounding the mistreatment of women has lessened with the “Me Too” movement, Betty Griffin has seen an increase in the need for its services — during a time of exponential growth in St. Johns County.

While the nonprofit receives grant funding through governmental and non-governmental sources, the organization is always a playing catch-up to filling in gaps in services, an area where Mahr’s banking background has come into play.

“Our donors continue to be so important to support Betty Griffin,” said Mahr. “We had 18 beds [in shelter], then 42, and now 54, and we’re still growing. There is always going to be a need for both long-term and short-term resources.”

On the other hand, Mahr said, Betty Griffin has cultivated a large group of community partners — just some of which include Flagler Hospital; the Stewart Marchman Center in Flagler County; and the Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County — with which it works collaboratively on common issues of social and family welfare.

An organization established by need

The Betty Griffin Center was founded in 1990 by concerned citizens and incorporated as the Safety Shelter of St. Johns County to develop plans to provide shelter for local victims of domestic violence and their children. Then-director Beth Hughes led the group.

In 1992, the nonprofit agency contracted with a local motel for space and started a 24-hour crisis line and court advocacy program.

By 1994, the agency purchased and opened Betty Griffin House as permanent shelter. The shelter expanded in 1998 to meet local demand, and added a sexual assault program the same year.

Its services have greatly expanded since then, to include employment assistance, life readiness skills and on-going counseling and support to survivors, who Mahr said will continue to need that assistance for the rest of their lives.

In addition, the Betty Griffin Center has taken an active role in trying to break the cycle of domestic abuse and sexual assault by leading classes at the high-school level on rape, gender equality and other issues to hopefully prevent young people from falling into the same patterns of behavior as previous generations.

Mahr said she believes it is the right time to step down, even as she knows she’ll miss her day-to-day involvement with the organization, especially its staff, causing her to tear up when talking about leaving.

“At the end of the day, it’s been such an honor to be a voice of support for survivors,” said Mahr.

As for the next director, Mahr said she believes: “The CEO needs to have experience working with survivors and their children with an in-depth understanding of the trauma survivors face each day of their lives. Your decisions as a CEO have a direct impact on the lives of survivors and their children. Thus, the importance of listening to survivors and as the CEO you are dealing with life and death situations.”

Mahr plans to help the board of directors’ search committee to help identify the best candidate and to help in the transition.

Photo courtesy of the St. Augustine Record