DART’s story is a story of a community’s journey. For generations, women who were abused by someone they loved lived in terror and pain because there was no place for them to go if they left. Some spent a lifetime being beaten and abused by their partners. Some were actually killed. Some committed suicide in their despair.
In 1989, the Ruston Mayor’s Commission began to study the issue of domestic violence. This group held public forums on the topic, with speakers representing law enforcement, counseling, domestic violence programs in nearby parishes, and victims and survivors of domestic abuse. In 1990, they decided to gather monthly statistics on domestic violence calls from local law enforcement agencies. Three years later, these statistics revealed that not only did our community have a problem with domestic violence, but that problem was growing. This information was used in the first grant applications for the newly formed organization called the Domestic Abuse Resistance Team. The founding members of DART were Judge Robert James, District Attorney Bob Levy, Judge Joe Bleich, Terry Nix, and Terrie Queen Autrey. Although not on the founding board, two other people were essential in organizing, incorporating, and applying for initial grants to operate. Dr. Terry McConathy did the original grant-writing for our organization, and Cinda Terral, a law clerk at the time, organized all documents needed for incorporation.
DART opened its doors in 1994. Initially, we operated both our office and our shelter at 813 N. Trenton Street in Ruston. Our shelter could house eight people. In our first year, we served only Lincoln Parish, with a staff of two people. Volunteers filled a crucial role in our services. They performed virtually any task needed to run our program, including a 24-hour crisis line, 24-hour shelter duty, transportation, office work, maintenance, fundraising, and mentoring. In the subsequent years, we moved to a larger shelter which could house up to twelve people, and opened an office at 108 W. Alabama in Ruston. In addition, we began to serve outlying rural parishes, and opened offices in each of them. Currently, DART serves seven parishes, with a dedicated staff of 21 people. Through faithful coverage of our efforts and growth by our local paper, the Ruston Daily Leader, DART’s reputation has grown and community involvement has increased. DART is recognized throughout the state as an outstanding example of a grass-roots effort which, with dedicated community support, has grown into a strong and caring organization committed to serving and supporting families who suffer from domestic violence.