B  U  F  F  A  L  O   N  E  W  S


Bicycle trip seeks to raise awareness of shelter for domestic violence victims
  Click to view larger picture
Ronald J. Colleran/Buffalo News
Suzanne Tomkins, who took a break Sunday on Grand Island, intends to resume her cross-country bicycle trek today.


NIAGARA FALLS - Women who have experienced domestic violence and become homeless face serious challenges. To raise awareness of a haven for these women, set to open today in Niagara Falls, Suzanne Tomkins overcame some obstacles as well.

The University at Buffalo law professor is nearing the final days of her first coast-to-coast bicycle tour.

Tomkins used the two-month trip to spread the word about Carolyn's House - a transitional home for abused women and their children - plus raise some money for operating costs and celebrate her 50th birthday.

Tomkins, a Grand Island resident, is also co-president of the YWCA of Niagara's board of directors and directs UB's family violence clinic.

She has played key roles in the YWCA's effort to help women struggling to get their lives together after fleeing domestic violence.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Tompkins said her work made her aware that 60 percent of homeless women are in that situation because of domestic violence.

"We certainly are aware of obstacles these women have," she said. "The services are out there, but aren't helpful if people aren't aware of them. When people are in crisis, we have to provide them in the most user-friendly way."

So YWCA of Niagara bought the structure at 542 Sixth St., formerly Niagara University's residence for student nurses and seminary for Vincentian nuns, to provide such a place.

A year of renovations to turn it into a long-term shelter with 19 units will wrap up with a ribbon cutting at 2 p.m. today. Carolyn's House is named for Carolyn Van Schaik, a community activist and lawyer.

Tomkins said the home will differ from other shelters by providing job training, 24-hour day care, larger apartments for women with three or four children, and studio apartments for young women aging out of foster care.

"What can seem like insurmountable odds for someone, . . . we'll hopefully help move toward self-sufficiency and eventually home ownership," Tomkins said.

Through development clinics at UB, Tomkins has helped ensure the day care services will meet regulations and grant applications were written for funding.

"It's always nice when your worlds can collide" and help one another, she said.

Today, Tomkins will continue her 80-mile-per-day trip, scheduled to end next week in Gloucester, Mass. She said she expects to raise a few thousand dollars in donations for Carolyn's House.

"It's an amazing thing for someone to give up that much time to do this fund raising for us," said Kathleen Granchelli, YWCA executive director. "Suzanne is an amazing person, and we're thankful to her for the profile (the bicycle trip) gives us."