Everyone deserves to feel protected, to feel they have a safe place to lay their head at night, to feel like when they close the door to their own home, they are just that: home. There’s a saying: Home is where the heart is. But for victims of domestic violence, home is often where the heartache is.
Domestic violence hits every community across the United States. No matter if you live in a large city or a rural community, women — and men — fall victim to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. And those are the cases that get reported. Thankfully, organizations and safe places exist for those people who are able to escape their dangerous and, in some cases, life threatening situations.
That’s where ASPEN comes in.
No, not the ritzy mountain town in Colorado. This is ASPEN: the Abuse Support & Prevention Education Network. ASPEN is located in the small town of Livingston, Mont., along the Yellowstone River and about 30 minutes outside of Bozeman. The organization is a safe haven for domestic violence victims who need a quick place to stay — whether alone or with their children — and services to help them get to a safe place, physically or emotionally. The ASPEN safe house, set in a non-disclosed location for the residents’ protection, gives people a temporary place to safely lay their head while they get their life back in order. ASPEN also provides a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, crisis counseling, support groups, legal counseling and more.
As a nonprofit organization, ASPEN relies on grants and donations, and that’s where the kind folks who own Livingston’s Ace Hardware come in. For more than a decade, owners Matt Dowdell and Tom Shellenberg have made helping ASPEN a priority in their community outreach and giving initiatives. They have an "open" account at the store where staff from ASPEN can come in and shop. When ASPEN staff approach the cash register to check out, they’ll simply tell the Ace associate they’re with ASPEN. The clerk then rings them up, marks everything as a donation for ASPEN, and they’re able to take their products — everyday cleaning supplies, paint and sometimes even an air-conditioning unit — free of charge.
This is part of the overall philosophy of Livingston’s Ace to give back and be a part of their community. They know they have the means and want to ensure their community is taken care of and feels safe and provided for. In addition to giving back to the community, they help the community take part in that giving as well. Every fall, the store hosts a "ladies night," where they open the doors to the women of Livingston to come in, shop, meet vendors, have food and drinks, and have a fun night. The women are also encouraged to bring in clothes and winter outerwear for ASPEN. In 2018, the women donated so much clothing that ASPEN actually had more than they knew what to do with.
Think about this: You have just fled from a dangerous situation, often quite quickly, with very few of your belongings. Those pieces that help you feel like you — that help you feel like a whole person. And you had to leave them behind to ensure your safety and, many times, the safety of your children. Then you call the ASPEN hotline. They have space at their safe house. You have a clean bed in a warm house with nutritious food. And then you get to pick out some clothes, which is a saving grace any time of the year, but especially in winter when it is downright cold! You now have warm boots, sweaters and a big, comfy coat to protect you from the harsh elements. You have people who help you and care for you. And you know there’s a community that supports you when you need it the most.
This is just one way the owners of Livingston’s Ace give back to their community. They don’t want recognition or thanks. They do this out of the goodness of their hearts. They know their community needs them and they’re more than happy to help.