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In December of 1979, a homemaker, a paralegal for Legal Assistance of North Dakota (LAND), and a woman from the Area Low Income Council—all of whom were former battered women—met for the first time with the goal of establishing a system of safe homes for victims of domestic violence. They collected data from six counties and found that LAND reported 85% of their yearly divorce cases involved domestic abuse. Police and other law enforcement agencies in the area reported a steady increase in the numbers of ongoing domestic calls. The Crisis Line, too, was reporting a steady increase in the number of calls.


In September of 1980, SAAF finally became reality and the by-laws were adopted. A Board of Directors was formed, and an election of officers was held. A food pantry was started to assist the safe homes, and donations were received from several organizations and churches. By February of 1981, five safe homes were established and the crisis was put into effect on a 24-hour basis.


SAAF continued to strive for more effective services and continued community education on abuse; however, progress moved rather slowly until 1983 when a local bank donated a repossessed house to use as shelter. The house was in bad repair, but that did not dampen the spirits of the volunteers and the local police department. Most of the merchants in the surrounding area donated supplies, fixtures, and other items. Meanwhile, the volunteers and off-duty police officers spent their spare hours renovating the shelter. The shelter doors opened in June of 1984. This house has the area’s first “shelter” but has since been sold. 


In March of 1992, the Lake Region Domestic Violence Task Force was formed to ensure that no victims fall between the cracks of the system. The task force is made up of people from the Human Services Center, the States Attorney, City Attorney, Law Enforcement, Mercy Hospital, Social Services, Community Action Program, local judges, parole and probation, school counselors, and the wellbeing of all victims of the area. The Task Force made the SAAF program the “spoke of the wheel” of services for all victims.


Out of this task force, we decided to hire a victim-witness advocate who would work exclusively with each victim, especially assisting the victim through the legal system. Our Victim Advocate started with the program in March of 1993. We have also included a secretary to work at our office on a part-time basis through the Green Thumb Program, and of course, we have our Shelter Manager who works with the victims and their children while they are at the shelter.


In May of 1996, a Child/Indian Advocate was added. Her responsibilities include educating in the schools about dating violence and sexual abuse. She also works with children who are staying in the shelter to help them better understand why they are there. She is the liaison with the reservation and has been given the duty of coordinating the shelter as a supervised visitation center, as well as a pick-up and drop-off center for visitation.


The mission of Safe Alternatives for Abused Families (SAAF) is to provide relief to community members impacted by violence, and to defend the basic human right to be safe from violence through service provision, inter-agency coordination, and public awareness.


We envision a community where all members have the opportunity to experience a safe and caring environment through advocacy that enables them to be responsible citizens.



Executive Director,

Credentials and Certified Domestic Violence &

Sexual Assault Advocate


Assistant Director,

Shelter Coordinator,

Certified Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Advocate,

Crime Victim Witness Advocate


Administrative Assistant


Certified Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Advocate, SART coordinator


Prevention Coordinator,

Salvation Army



Sexual Assault Coordinator


Certified Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Advocate, Salvation Army


Offender Treatment Coordinator,

Shelter Manager


Supervised Visitation & Exchange Coordinator


Sean Roed


Mindy Swenson

Vice President

Sunshine Brenning


Rob Johnson


Jessica Dimmitch

Pam O’Brien

Ben Harkness

Kathy Frelich

Victoria Church

Denton Heisler 

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