A passionate voice for 15 years to end domestic violence is leaving the Belleville area for a new position at the Phoenix Crisis Center in Granite City.
Debra Mize will work her final day Friday as the director of prevention at the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois.
"I've learned a lot of skills here," Mize said of her time working mainly in East St. Louis and Belleville.
She will serve as the executive director at Phoenix. With 12 employees, the small agency is trying to find its footing with funding and grow the organization.
"They are struggling," she said. "I think I could help with that."
Kevin Hutchison, the executive director of St. Clair County Health Department, said the area will miss Mize's fight against domestic violence. "Violence doesn't stop at the county line," he said. "It's a regional and societal problem."
Mize, 55, of Belleville, began at the Violence Prevention Center in 1999 on what would have been her 21st wedding anniversary to the man who tried to strangle her when her daughter was 6 days old.
"He's the reason why I do this work," she said. "I learned the lesson to be safe."
Mize said she has had success over the years teaching about healthy relationships to small groups of troubled girls at Belleville West High School, some students who were on the verge of getting expelled.
"I've had several of them stop me in the community and say, 'Debbie, you saved my life.'"
But, "There's not enough of 'me's' around that we can do these groups everywhere," she explained.
So that's why she is enrolled in a University of Colorado program to earn her master's of public administration with a concentration in domestic violence -- the only program of its kind in the nation. She travels to Denver twice a year and will complete the program in 18 months.
"My long-term goal is to do national prevention programs and to get into policy analysis," she said, explaining that the climate toward domestic violence changed in the 1980s, but that the number of homicides related to domestic violence has not really declined.
"We're missing something," she said. "That's what I want to look at."
Darlene Jones, the executive director of the Violence Prevention Center, said Mize's new position is a chance for her to grow, though she will be missed in Belleville.
"I told her, 'You can bet we'll be calling you when you're gone,'" Jones said.
"She's been here for 15 years and she's a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of contacts in the community," she said. "Everybody knows Debbie Mize, so it's going to be a tremendous loss to the community."
The Phoenix center offers services to victims from Madison and Bond counties, but has clients mainly from the Granite City area, Mize said. "I'm going to try to help them spread their reach, spread their wings and grow," she said.
"It's so exciting to be able to look at someplace now and then measure it changing," she said. "That's really something good."
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at email@example.com or 618-239-2460.
If you need help now, call the Violence Prevention Center at call 618-235-0892. For more information about the Violence Prevention Center, call 618-236-2531 or visit http://www.vpcswi.org/.
For more information about or to get help from the Phoenix Crisis Center, call 618-451-1008 or visit https://www.facebook.com/phoenixcrisiscenter.