MILLEDGEVILLE — Baldwin County's In Our Best Interest (IOBI) group helps area women and children free themselves from domestic violence related situations and abuse by providing counseling and resources that empowers them with knowledge and courage to escape.
IOBI is a series of sessions that are free of charge and help promote self-esteem in victims of domestic violence.
Since the creation of the program, the domestic violence support class has graduated more than 500 women, encouraging them to take control of their own lives by getting help and getting out of abusive relationships. The program began in 1999.
“Our first class was Jan. 14, and our first graduation was Oct. 28,” Victim's Advocate Johnnie Wilson said while reflecting on the program's success. “It's very inspiring to see how many lives we have saved since then.”
The 14th annual IOBI graduation was held Monday evening at Aubri Lane's restaurant. The graduation ceremony included a dinner, awarding of certificates, remembrance on those who have lost their lives due to domestic violence and speeches by recent graduates of the program. Wilson awarded certificates to 20 graduates this year.
Amanda Thigpen and Natalie Fields, graduates of the IOBI program, shared their hopes and aspirations during the dinner celebration. Thigpen actively volunteers with the group. She spoke about her experience as a domestic violence victim and the impact it had on her child. According to a report by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, children often witness the abuse in the home first-hand and are more likely to contribute to the vicious cycle as they become adults.
“The program helps victimized women step back and see the negative impact their situation can have not only on themselves but on their children as well,” Wilson said.
Thigpen also expressed the importance of the IOBI program and the many ways in which it changed her life through encouragement and domestic violence education.