Domestic violence is not normally addressed by city government, but Mount Airy officials have bestowed a special honor on a local resident who has brought much awareness to that issue.
Helen Smith Worrell received a certificate of recognition from Mayor Deborah Cochran during a Thursday night board of commissioners meeting. Worrell is credited with initiating construction of the first domestic violence shelter in Surry County, among many other efforts to combat the problem.
Worrell was herself a battered wife, abused by her husband for more than a dozen years. She would serve time in prison for his shooting death in the 1970s, before receiving a governor’s pardon.
She then devoted her life to helping others in the same situation, but in recent years has suffered health problems and presently is awaiting a liver transplant.
“Helen Smith Worrell has traveled all over the United States sharing her story about living in a domestic violence home and about survival,” Mayor Cochran told the large audience gathered for Thursday night’s commissioners meeting. Among those in attendance were nine family members of Worrell’s, including her present husband Eldridge, and many friends and supporters.
Cochran detailed Worrell’s work over a 29-year period, including serving as an ambassador to the United Nations’ fourth world conference on domestic violence prevention held in Beijing in 1995.
“She has given many lectures, (and) attended seminars, workshops and conferences,” said the mayor, who added that Worrell told her story on “Larry King Live” and other nationally televised shows hosted by Phil Donahue and Geraldo Rivera.
Worrell has served in leadership positions or as a board member for organizations including the formerly battered women’s caucus of the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Surry Task Force on Domestic Violence Inc., Displaced Homemakers Network and Tri-County Women’s Resource Center Inc.
Locally, Worrell is known as a homeless shelter founder and tireless advocate for those displaced by problems not of their causing.
Mayor Cochran, a longtime volunteer with The Salvation Army in Mount Airy, recalled a specific situation in which Worrell made a difference in the life of someone in need.
During the 1990s, a man from Michigan came into the agency’s office asking for food and clothing. He told Cochran, who was on duty, that he was living under a bridge.
Cochran, who admitted to being naive about such situations at the time, actually had the man show her his “home” under the Ararat River bridge on Linville Road.
“I immediately called Helen,” the mayor said of the Mount Airy woman who lives in a large house on North Main Street and was renting out rooms there. Worrell agreed to give the man a place to stay, with The Salvation Army paying for the room, household items and other necessities.
“She didn’t judge him and actually was instrumental in his having some stability in his life,” Cochran related.
The man went to work and later met a nurse, “and is living happily ever after,” she said.
Cochran classified Worrell as “a strong woman” who has led an uncommon life.
The domestic violence activist has five children, nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and another on the way. Much of her time is now spent with family and friends and attending church.
Along with expressing appreciation for being honored by the city, Worrell used Thursday night’s occasion to remind the public that domestic violence remains a problem in society.
“We must continue to work and advocate for victims,” she said, “who are living in war zones called their homes.”
Worrell further said she was fortunate to have lived a life that while offering some bad times, also gave her “the best.”
Also Thursday night, the city commissioners:
• Voted to establish a new group, the Sports Facilities Commission, which will explore ways to improve existing athletic fields in the city and provide new ones to meet demands in sports such as soccer.
Its members include commissioners Scott Graham and Jon Cawley, city Parks and Recreation Director Catrina Alexander, Keith Venable, N.A. Barnes, Richard Loftis and Bryan Taylor.
• Accepted a law enforcement block grant awarded to the Mount Airy Police Department to provide surveillance equipment for narcotics officers.
The $10,000 grant, which the city applied for last December, was approved by the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. That funding requires a 25-percent local match, which will be met with funds acquired from federal and state sources including the North Carolina controlled-substances tax.
Police Chief Dale Watson has said the grant was targeted for covert audio and video equipment to aid drug investigations. Present equipment is old and unreliable, putting officers at risk, he said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.