When Anna Belle Few was asked to help women who were experiencing domestic abuse and violence, she didn’t expect to wind up co-founding a new nonprofit.
In 1978, Anna Belle was one of 13 women to join forces and devote their time, effort, and resources to establish the North Hills Women’s Center (NHWC), which by 1982 would be known as Crisis Center North. Equipped with an initial budget of just $13.78, members of six different women’s social and service organizations collaborated to form a new organization to support abuse victims of domestic abuse.
Leading CCN founders included members of the North Hills-McKnight Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW): Anna Belle Few, member; Lori Heiser, branch president; and Dee Walk, member and also president of the North Borough’s Senior Women’s Club and AAUW member.
Anna Belle and her husband Bill had two school-age sons who were in school when she was asked volunteered by AAUW comember Dee Walk. Dee’s husband was a psychiatrist who realized that many clients he referred for domestic abuse services to in the city of Pittsburgh were hesitant to leave the suburbs for support. Dee shared with Anna Belle the concern that some women were not getting help at a time when they could be most in danger.
Few said some CCN founders had some family members and North Hills neighbors who were in need.
“So, we all decided to spearhead an effort to help,” Few recalls. “We invited the North Hills Y, The Century Club, The North Boroughs Jr. and Sr. Women’s Club to join us.”
Other sponsoring organizations include: North Area YWCA; the North Borough’s Senior and Junior Women’s Clubs; Perry-Highland Junior Women’s Club and Ingomar New Century Club.
NHWC soon developed a specialized program of intervention, support, and educational services for victims of domestic violence in the northern and western regions of Allegheny County, initially focusing on 15 North Hills and Northside communities.
The founding of CCN followed the passing of the Protection From Abuse Act for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1976. Amendments to the initial act soon provided improved relief and response for domestic violence victims.
“We were very serious about the work. It was sort of on-the-job training,” Few says, describing morning meetings at her house when representatives from each community group would gather, forming committees and planning fundraising efforts that at first included wine and cheese gatherings.
Anna Belle credits board colleague Sister Betty Sundry, from the Sisters of Divine Providence, as “the one who really trained me.”
By February 1979 “Creative listening” training was being held for the Center’s first 50 volunteers. By August, drop in support and hotline services were well underway as the new organization’s visibility in the community grew.
Anna Belle says CCN’s founders weren’t sure how the Ross Township Police Department would react when first contacted about the women’s efforts, but local law enforcement welcomed this new form of support. A 1981 North Hills News Record story featured officers discussing their involvement in not only supporting the Center’s work but depending on the Center’s collaboration as officers described the challenges of trying to aid abuse victims during emergency calls.
The improved law in Pennsylvania created a need for volunteers who could support the urgent need for preparation of Protection From Abuse orders (PFAs) to support women feeling threatened by abusive spouses. Through their work in the North Hills, Anna Belle and some colleagues recognized the need to help victims write their protection orders for Allegheny County court.
Beginning in the 1980s, Anna Belle did this vital volunteer work for 13 years at Allegheny County Courts’ Family Division. During that time period, Mondays were a heavy day for PFA requests, especially as Night Court was closed over the weekend, so Anna Belle and another friend from the North Hills made that their day to carpool to Grant Street where they assisted on the first morning of every week.
Anna Belle recalls she originally worked in the City-County building in a makeshift space created between elevators doors. It wasn’t very private or conducive to the confidential nature of the work.
Working directly with victims, Anna Belle heard first-hand the pleas and confusion of those suffering from abuse: “I can’t tell you how many times I heard: ‘I don’t think I can do this today.’ ‘I think he will kill me.’” She heard when an abuser reportedly told a spouse “I know where your family lives.”
It was intense work and Few says “The county sheriffs were always in the area where we worked with the clients.”
“There are some brave souls who have gone out there and helped people,” she says of the law enforcement officers, counselors, and volunteers who deal directly with victims.
Anna Belle’s career work included about eight years in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Microbiology after college at Pitt. Anna Belle and her husband William, also a Pitt alum and ardent supporter of CCN, raised their two sons in the North Hills. Following Bill’s passing in 2003, Anna Belle moved to Sewickley.
Anna Belle served on the board of CCN in the late 1990s and has been a constant friend and supporter of the organization she helped to found. She celebrated her 83rd birthday the week before Cocktails & Cuisine 2018, where Anna Belle was honored along with the 40th anniversary of CCN.