Celebrating 40 Years!

In the mid-1970s, a small group of friends gathered to discuss the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault in Central Oregon. Those conversations sparked a 1975 conference at St. Charles on rape and by 1977, these consciousness-raising efforts led to the founding of Saving Grace.                          

The volunteer-run group—then called COBRA, the Central Oregon Battering and Rape Alliance—started with a hotline. It was nearly three months before the first call came in, but within two years, volunteers had answered 155 calls. In those early days, the “staff” was volunteers and the work was funded entirely by individual donors. It was truly a community effort.

By 1979, the organization brought on its first staff member through AmeriCorps VISTA—a program Saving Graces continues to benefit from today. With that increased capacity, COBRA established a “safe home” network, identifying community members willing to host survivors until they got back on their feet. When Saving Grace built its confidential shelter in 1990, it was one of the first six purpose-built shelters for survivors of domestic violence in the nation.
Over the next decade, following the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (1994), COBRA doubled in size—from 5 staff to 12—and opened offices in Madras, Prineville, Sisters, and John Day. The 2000s saw the opening of Mary’s Place, a supervised visitation and exchange center aimed at preventing sometimes-deadly post-separation violence. 

The seeds planted by that small network of do-gooders grew over the decades into a robust, professional organization with about 30 staff and advocates in all three Central Oregon counties—Crook, Jefferson, and Deschutes—providing a wide range of preventive, crisis, and support services for survivors of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. From our 24-hour hotline and weekly support groups to our confidential shelter and supervised visitation and exchange center, Saving Grace supports survivors at all points on their path to safety and healing. 

Even as we expand our reach, we continue to rely on the generosity of volunteers and community members. Last year, our volunteers provided nearly 12,000 hours of direct services to survivors, a value of more than $200,000. The financial contributions of local donors comprise close to one third of our annual $1.4 million budget. 

As we look back on four decades of advocating for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, we’re reminded of our roots, and the fact that Saving Grace is ultimately an extension of our community. We are so grateful to the dedicated supporters who helped build this movement and continue to sustain this work with their time, passion, funds, and expertise. 

Ryan Stillwater