A woman looks out her window, holding a mug.

JBWS: “For victims of domestic abuse, COVID-19 was like a jail sentence”

21 December 2020

When cases of domestic abuse increased across the world during the pandemic, US non-profit JBWS needed support to continue helping survivors. We hear how Barclays helped the organisation to enhance its essential services – and get people to shelter and safety.

“I can’t even remember the name of the counsellor that reached out to help me,” says domestic abuse survivor Anna. “But she saved my life.”

The pandemic was nearing its peak when Anna’s partner at the time assaulted her. Faced with a desperate situation, she turned to the non-profit JBWS for help and refuge. She was able to reach a trusted counsellor by calling the 24-hour hotline.  

“If she hadn’t given me the option of another place to go, I probably would have gone right back into the same situation,” says Anna. “And if I did, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

Based in Morris County, New Jersey, JBWS has worked to prevent domestic abuse, rehabilitating survivors and advocating for change since 1976. Along with a 24-hour hotline, the non-profit offers emergency shelter, transitional living apartments, counselling and children’s services – supported by 200 volunteers and more than 75 staff members across five locations in the US.

During the pandemic, demand for these services rose. “Staying home was probably safe for most of the people in the state of New Jersey,” reflects JBWS President and CEO Diane Williams. “But for victims of abuse and their children, trapped at home with their abusers, it really was like a jail sentence.”

As JBWS faced a 15% cut in individual donor income to the services that were so urgently needed, Barclays stepped in to help. Crucial funds from the bank’s £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package have mitigated some of the challenges that the non-profit has faced – working to get people like Anna the support they need. 

Lindsay Friedman sits at a table and poses for a photo.

Barclays’ Lindsay Friedman, who volunteers with JBWS.

All of those things that have always been an issue for victims and survivors escalated to a whole other level.

Diane Williams

President and CEO, JBWS

Children’s painted hands, glued in the shape of a tree to a poster.

Children supported by JBWS collaborated on an art project to reflect their shared experience of surviving domestic abuse, and their redefinition of family and community in the charity’s safe housing.

More than a donation

Committed to going beyond financial support to help charities, Barclays encourages colleagues involved in citizenship to volunteer their time as charity board members. For JBWS, that colleague is Lindsay Friedman, a VP in the Collateral Management team of Barclays Investment Bank.

Born and bred in New Jersey, Friedman says her dedication to her new board position stems from a desire “to make sure the community is positively impacted by Barclays”. Reflecting on the experience collaborating with JBWS, she says: “I’d grown to love the charity and the folks who worked there. I knew I could do more.”

When the first COVID-19 lockdown hit, JBWS needed help to ensure that its staff were fully equipped to support those depending on them – leveraging the power of board members such as Friedman to respond to the situation. Through the rapid shift to remote working, Barclays assisted JBWS staff with the use of new technology, says Friedman, “supporting them to be the best managers they can be”.

“They were not equipped to work from home,” she says. “And they don’t have the money to hire an HR service to come in and develop their employees. So we have volunteered our efforts to help them with that.”

Meanwhile, the non-profit’s safe house filled up; in the first weeks of the pandemic, there was a reported 18% increase of domestic violence incidents in Newark, New Jersey. “What COVID-19 did,” says Williams, “was exacerbate the issues that survivors are dealing with already. Employment, housing, food and security – all of those things that have always been an issue for victims and survivors escalated to a whole other level.”

Barclays funds helped to offset the unexpected costs and increased demands of the pandemic, securing hotel space as a safe house for survivors – with JBWS staff on-site to offer services and accessible support to those in need.

Help for survivors of all ages

Among those JBWS supports are children and adolescents who have been exposed to domestic abuse – and with 92 children living in JBWS residential services in 2020, the start of remote learning during COVID-19 represented a huge challenge.

“There are many JBWS families that qualify for free lunch and breakfast in the US public school system,” says Friedman. “When these children weren't going to go to school, where were they going to get money to eat?”

As classes moved online, Barclays found new ways to offer support. “We wanted to do something immediately to let JBWS know we were there as partners to help them,” says Friedman. “So we sent thousands of breakfasts, lunches and school snacks to help the children start the school year successfully.” Seeing how JBWS services can change lives is “rewarding”, says Friedman, who describes “seeing survivors graduate from the safe house into long-term housing”.

“Children shouldn’t be raised in a house with abuse,” she says. “We help to give them support and education for years to come, and to reinforce that they're stronger than they know.”

For people like Anna, the non-profit can provide a fresh start. “I got into an apartment with help from JBWS,” she says. “I was able to get my own place and move forward with my life.”

“That one phone call could change your life”

Although pandemic restrictions have been lifted in most US states, many living in situations of domestic abuse remain trapped with their abusers. Urging anyone in an abusive situation to seek help, Williams says: “Our shelters are safe.”

Anna, who grew up with domestic violence, said she never thought she would find herself in a similar situation as an adult. “I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through it,” she says. “But for anyone who does go through it, JBWS can help.”

The non-profit offers families “their glimmer of hope that things can change with a little bit of help,” says Friedman. “Every time someone walks through the door – as terrible as their situation is – the silver lining is that they walked through the door. And part of the story is that they’ve called JBWS and are on their way to a better life.”

Reflecting on her own experience, Anna says: “Don’t hesitate to call. Because that one phone call could change your life.”

Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package

Barclays has established a £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package to support communities impacted by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It consists of two components: charitable donations to non-profit partners working in the communities where Barclays operates; and a commitment to match personal colleague donations to their chosen non-profits who are helping COVID-19 relief efforts in their communities.

Find out more about Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package.