In 1983 Nedda Jefferson Simon opened Freedom House, a walk-in domestic and sexual violence shelter in Wyanet, Ill., a village two hours west of Chicago. Serving more than 30,000 survivors to date, the shelter has moved three times to expand its services. It now offers both crisis services, including safe lodging and medical advocacy, and long-term care to individuals and families across Illinois’ Bureau, Henry, Marshall, Putnam and Stark counties.
After studying speech and English at Northwestern, Simon worked as a high school English teacher in Wyanet, where she met Donald, her husband of more than 65 years. When their three daughters were young, she volunteered as a community mental health worker and “fell in love with counseling.” While working as an addiction counselor, Simon realized that resources were lacking for survivors of domestic violence in her western Illinois community. “The women had no place to go,” she remembers.
So the Simons rented a small house next to a post office, and despite numerous financial and bureaucratic hurdles, opened a shelter to provide lodging and support to women and their families. For Simon, it was a labor of love — and a little bit of luck.
“I loved every minute,” she recalls. “I remember the hundreds of times I wondered how in the world I would do this. But then a $250 check would come in, or somebody would call and say, ‘I’ve solved your telephone problem.’ Everybody stepped up.”
The current 32-bed shelter in Princeton, Ill., includes a former chapel that, just last year, was rededicated as the Nedda J. and Donald H. Simon Conference Center.
“I tell you, that’s a very strange feeling to see your name up on a sign,” Simon says. “We’re so proud we’ve got a permanent home.”
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