For the past thirty-eight years, Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter has been serving victims of domestic violence in nine counties across East Mississippi. In twenty-six of those years, one woman has been doing what she calls her God-given mission within the shelter. “This is the mission field that God has put me in. When I walked into the shelter for the first time in August of 1993, I knew that I had found my niche in life—I knew that I was where I was supposed to be,” said Care Lodge Executive Director, Leslie Payne.
For the past nineteen years, she’s served as the executive director. She addressed the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors at their latest work session to, as usual, advocate for yearly funds, but to also announce her retirement. “It’s certainly been a challenge. There have certainly been times when I have gone home very frustrated. I have cried either tears of joy or frustration, but it’s always been a place that I knew that I was meant to be,” said Payne.
With their budget growing to now 1.3 million dollars, access to grants increasing, their services are also growing, and they hope to continue receiving help from the community. In all the grants the receive, they must have a cash match. Each year they must have a $238,000 cash match for the size of their budget. “Over the years, our services have expanded to victims of dating violence, stalking, and human trafficking,” said Payne. “So, over the years, our services have expanded, and over the years, the number of clients that we have serve have expanded.”
They currently serve between 900 and 1,100 women and children annually. Payne is pushing harder for funding, considering the city of Meridian did not fund them this year, due to a cut in funding. The city normally gives the shelter between $3,000 and $5,000. She said the county normally gives between $10,000 and $20,000.
Payne also acknowledged that councils and boards within all nine counties they serve make yearly donations to Care Lodge. “It’s important for the community to provide support to Care Lodge, because when you look at what Care Lodge does for community, if we were not here tomorrow, where would the thousands of clients that we provide services to every year, where would they go?” said Payne. Nearly fifty to seventy percent of all clients that receive services at Care Lodge are from the Meridian-Lauderdale county area. Payne’s last day will be June 30th, and Sarah Smith, who is their community coordinator, will be serving as interim executive director.