After 29 years with Family of Woodstock, including two decades as director of Washbourne House, the agency’s battered women’s shelter, Kathy Welby-Moretti has moved on. She’s not sure yet where she’s going to land, but she said, “I felt a need to change. It’s time to expand my goals.”
While she’ll continue to advocate for women around the problem of domestic violence, Welby-Moretti wants to focus on other issues that have been troubling her. “Since I was a child, I can’t tolerate injustice,” she said. “I feel strongly about stopping heroin. It’s an epidemic in this county, and it’s taking our children away. Gender equality, fighting racism, raising wages so people can afford to live here — these are all important to me. I’m certain there’s a position out there that’ll be perfect for me, an organization that I can help with my advocacy and fundraising skills.”
Shortly before deciding to leave Family, Welby-Moretti had launched a candidacy for Ulster County legislator on the Democratic ticket. “I thought I could make a change there, and I could do it part-time,” she said. “Then personal issues happened, and I had to withdraw.”
Leaving her job after nearly three decades was sad for her, and she will miss the clients at Washbourne House. “I met so many beautiful, strong women,” she sighed. “I witnessed their determination as they started their lives over without violence.”
Her work with Family began in the finance department. She wanted to help women at the shelter, but first she had to deal with a domestic violence incident in her own life. “I knew I had to heal myself first. Then I applied to be a case manager at the shelter.” In 1995, she became director, overseeing both the residential and non-residential programs.
In those days, state regulations were much more lax. At the annual inspection required for recertification, state officials would visit for a few hours, looking over the files and the building, talking to staff and clients. The 2015 inspection took three days. “There’s a huge amount of paperwork and documentation required now,” she said. “It takes me away from the clients.”
Attitudes toward battered women and their families have also changed. She remembered an episode from 20 years ago, when a boy was invited to a birthday party. A teacher explained to his class that he probably wouldn’t be able to go because he was living at the shelter, and if he did go, he wouldn’t be able to afford a present. “That wouldn’t happen today,” Welby-Moretti noted. When the boy, in tears, reported what the teacher had said, she went out and bought him party clothes and a present to give the birthday child.
She has compassion for women who leave their batterers and move to another city, not knowing if they’ll ever see their possessions or friends again. Determined to make families comfortable at Washbourne House, she undertook renovations to the interior. “It wasn’t home, but at least people did not feel scared to come here,” she said. “I wanted them to have new sheets, towels, pillows, a comforter. We went out and bought those items, and the people would take them along when they left.”
When Welby-Moretti learned that a woman had lived in her car for two days, until she could find a relative to take care of her dog, she realized how important it was to deal with pets. “My dog is my baby,” she said. “Now we have a contract with someone who can board animals when families come to the shelter. There are all these things people don’t think about that are meaningful. We got churches to donate money for shoes for children, so they’d have new shoes when they went back to school.”
One of her accomplishments was the establishment of support groups for women outside the shelter who had managed to leave their partners and find another place to stay but still needed help handling their problems. She recalled counseling women who were angry at their batterers’ new girlfriends. “I’d ask them, ‘Do you think she got the new, improved version? You should feel sorry for her!’ Then they would laugh.”
Because there was a waiting list for the support groups, staff graduated the participants after a year, and it was most gratifying to learn that some of the graduates had begun to get together on their own. “When women support women, lasting friendships form,” said Welby-Moretti. “Most of them have children and are starting again from scratch. When they help each other, sharing child care, for example, that makes it easier.”
One of the most painful moments during her work at the shelter came when she learned of a local woman who had been murdered by her husband. “When I saw her picture, I realized I had seen her in the supermarket. She lived down the road from me!” Welby-Moretti recalled. “I thought, why didn’t she call me? How could she not know about us? It haunted me.”
Since leaving Family in early July, she has created a Facebook page called Domestic Violence Awareness in the Hudson Valley, to help people learn about services. She posts information on new legislation under discussion, hotline numbers (including a hotline for the deaf), articles in the news about domestic violence. “I want women to read the articles and feel they’re not alone, that it can happen to anyone. We’re always trying to figure out why, but there’s no closure with batterers. They’re never going to own up and be accountable.”
Whatever field she ends up in, Welby-Moretti will still be working to help women deal with the effects of domestic violence. “People don’t like to hear about it,” she commented. “But when it happens to their sister or their daughter, then they’re on the phone, trying to understand.”