Past and present executive directors of Rape Response gave a heartfelt thanks Monday evening to founder Wendy Glasbrenner.
The Gainesville organization is celebrating 25 years of serving sexual assault survivors in Northeast Georgia.
“The service they give to this community is just phenomenal,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said as he introduced the program held at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. “I’ve seen inside and out the benefits to this community, and survivors of sexual assault, and how that has impacted them.”
Sally Walden-Crowe has served on the board under each of the organization’s three executive directors, Elaine Gerke, Terri Strayhorn and Jeanne Buffington, who also were recognized.
“There’s probably very few agencies that have been around for 25 years that have only had three executive directors, so I think that’s a very great accomplishment,” she said. “I’m really proud to know and have worked with these three women.”
Walden-Crowe said in a small nonprofit, the executive director “has to do everything,” and that each of the women made unique, timely and important contributions.
“When I was thinking about this yesterday ... the quote that came to mind that I thought really fit was what Mordecai (said) to Queen Esther, and he said, ‘Perhaps you were called to this position for such a time as this,’” she said, quoting the Bible verse. “I think we can say that about all three of our executive directors. They brought their talents to the time that was needed and we’re so blessed to have had them serve, and will continue to be blessed to have them.”
Gerke, who was Rape Response’s first executive director, introduced Glasbrenner, the honoree of the evening.
“The needs for rape victims are very different from the needs of victims of domestic violence,” Gerke said. “She saw a need and knew that we needed to do something about it.”
With that idea, Glasbrenner reached out to six women in the community, including Gerke.
“We were just regular, normal women — we were not movers and shakers,” she said. “She hand-picked us because she knew of our commitment to women’s issues.”
Gerke said Glasbrenner led the research and funding effort, tirelessly writing grant proposals to get the initial amount needed to create an independent agency.
“We worked hard but had fun, too, because we believed in the issue and believed in the need,” Gerke said. “Wendy cares, she works hard and she produces results.”
She recalled some of the organization’s first fundraisers, which included dancing and sporting events and selling onion rings.
“I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since 1988. Surely that’s a mistake,” Glasbrenner said to laughter.
Glasbrenner kept her remarks short and sweet.
“Thank you for honoring me, but most of all thank you for honoring Rape Response tonight,” she said.
While Glasbrenner deferred attention from herself, Gerke said Glasbrenner was indispensable to the organization’s existence.
“Because of her, hundreds of women have received the nonjudgmental care they deserve,” Gerke said. “Without Wendy, there would be no Rape Response.”
In closing remarks, Buffington, the current executive director, gave special thanks to donors, board members and past and present volunteers.
“Every time I meet some of the staff from Rape Response, I am just blown away by how professional and compassionate and educated they are to the sexual assault survivors of our community,” Buffington said. “Y’all are the heart of Rape Response. You are the ones who get up in the middle of the night and go to the hospital, who answer the phones.”
She also read a poem and letter of thanks written by a sexual assault survivor.
“You and your work are absolutely incredible blessings to me, and I know, to many others.”