The Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania will hold its 14th annual Peace Begins At Home Dinner at Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe Oct. 16, the middle of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

It’s the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser, and typically brings in about $25,000, according to Natalie Chaido, president of Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The money raised at the dinner goes to support groups, services at their shelter and legal services, she said.

“We always have an empty place at the tables to symbolize people who have died from domestic violence,” Chaido said.

At each of those place settings, they set a picture of the deceased, with some of their personal effects and a summary of what happened to them and their loved ones, Chaido said.

“It’s very sobering and sad, but it hits home for why these services and the shelter are so important,” she said.

Tickets for the dinner are $60 per person, and seats can be reserved by calling 724-223-5481.

This is the first dinner since their founder Michelle Robinson-Ritter retired. She started the nonprofit in the 1980s and ran it 34 years.

Lisa Hannum, who’s been with the organization since 2005, took over last November as executive director.

“I wanted to take over to perpetuate the legacy that was left by our founder Michelle Robinson-Ritter,” Hannum said. “And that is a culture of providing a safe environment for those who don’t feel safe at home or in their relationship.”

Hannum said in her first year as director she’s been focusing on prevention strategies in K-12 schools, and teaching young people about healthy ways to resolve conflict in every type of relationship.

“I want to work on preventing the problem from occurring in the first place,” she said.

She said they’ve started using programs that “aid children as they grown into adult relationships, so they don’t find themselves as an abuser or a victim of an abuser.”

At the elementary level, they’re using a curriculum called “Connected and Respected,” and at the middle school level, it’s called “Safe Dates.” At the high school level, they plan to implement a curriculum called “Bloom 365.”

“It’s never too early to learn how to be in a healthy relationship,” Hannum said. “It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship.”

Hannum said the nonprofit doesn’t advertise where it is or what its services include because of legal obligations and the confidential nature of the work it does. She said the nonprofit tries to make the community aware of what it offers, since there’s a large need regionally.

“It doesn’t discriminate,” Hannum said about domestic violence. “It touches every part of our society regardless of who you are. It happens everywhere.”

The organization also encourages people to put up signs and purple lights and wear pins during October, to spread awareness about domestic violence.

“We want people to know that love doesn’t have to hurt,” Chaido said. “There are healthy relationships. Nobody deserves to be abused – nobody asks for that.”

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