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Donated building enables Safe Futures to expand services for domestic violence victims

New London — Safe Futures Executive Director Katherine Verano's longtime goal of creating a Family Justice Center for victims of domestic violence moved closer to reality Friday, when the agency accepted the donation of the former Waltham Chemical Building at 368 Broad St.

The Broad Street property is a two-story, 3,940-square-foot home, appraised at $254,000, that is zoned for commercial and residential use.

Clarke Keenan, who owned the Waltham Chemical company and once used the Broad Street building for offices, said he was renting it out and decided he didn't want to be a landlord anymore. The 1900 home, owned by Keenan, his wife, brother and sister, was "built to last," he said, though it has some drawbacks, including a narrow driveway.

"I was going to put the house in the market, and frankly there was no market for it," Keenan said during a phone interview. He asked his manager, Billie Moran, who needed a building.

"She said, 'Safe Futures,'" and the rest is history," Keenan said.

He said he and his wife, Cathie, a former social worker, drove down from Westwood, Mass., and met Verano, and it only took about five minutes before he decided it was a good match. Keenan said he also spent time with the Safe Futures staff and decided it was a great team. He said his family feels "wonderful" about making the donation.

Verano said the agency's administrative staff would move into the Broad Street building, freeing up five or six office spaces at Safe Futures' offices at 16 Jay St. for some of the new services it will be offering as a Family Justice Center.

"Their generosity is amazing," Verano said. "There were some chemicals stored there, and they paid to have it all remediated."

Also, Verano said, the donors have allotted money for upcoming property taxes.

Keenan said he bought the Eastern Chemical pest control company in New London in 1978 and sold the business known as Waltham Chemical in 2010 to Rawlins Industries, which was the parent company of Orkin. The Waltham Chemical brand, he said, is still alive and well in New London.

Verano said she has dreamed, for 20 years, of opening in southeastern Connecticut a Family Justice Center similar to one in Bridgeport. She said the center would provide wraparound services for clients who need help with multiple issues, including legal problems, counseling, housing, employment and education. If, for example, victims want to meet with law enforcement or court personnel, they'll be able to do it in the less-intimidating setting of the center, Verano said. 

Family Justice Centers have a tendency to keep growing, Verano said, and one day maybe the entire operation will move together into a larger space.

"You think big, you start small," she said. "We want to remove every barrier for a victim. We have to."

In March 2020, Gail Strack, chief executive officer of Alliance for HOPE International and a creator of the first family justice center, will be traveling to New London with others from the alliance to work on a strategic plan with Safe Futures' family justice center.

k.florin@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Billie Moran's name.

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