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Washtenaw United: Women's History Month-Honoring Barbara Niess-May

Barbara Niess-May
SafeHouse Center

Barbara Niess-May has provided a voice for survivors of sexual assault in Washtenaw County for decades.  Currently, she serves as the executive director of SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, which provides shelter, counseling, legal help, and other services for such victims.  Niess-May joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss her work, the progress made, and what lays ahead.  

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'




Barbara A. Niess-May is the Executive Director of SafeHouse Center, a supportive service and social action agency which provides help to over 5000 Washtenaw County, MI residents who are impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault annually through its 50 bed emergency shelter and its counseling and advocacy programs.  Barbara has worked toward supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence since 1994 in various micro- and macro-system capacities.  This has included individual advocacy, agency management as well as state wide level advocacy and support. 

In addition to these activities, Barbara has also been very involved in legislative work and has provided expert testimony in a variety of venues, including various levels of court and at the state and federal legislative level.  She is involved in her community in a variety of ways as a member of Rotary International, Southern Michigan Orienteering Club and community initiatives.  Barbara has served on several boards and committees, is a member of several national honor fraternities and is active in her church. Barbara holds two master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, one in Public Administration and one in Social Work. 

Her hobbies include time with family, cooking, adventure racing, running, mountain biking, and kayaking.


SafeHouse Center


UWWC, through the Washtenaw Coordinated Funders, is a longtime funder of SafeHouse Center.  Through Coordinated Funding, SafeHouse is presently supported through an multi-year grant totaling nearly $94k to support its shelter operations.

UWWC most recently invested $15,000 in SafeHouse through our COVID-19 Community Relief Fund to ensure continuity of operations during the pandemic.  SafeHouse has historically relied on the help of close to 300 volunteers to help with services who were unavailable to support the organization once the pandemic hit.  Staff then had to fill the 24-hour services by working overtime.  That amount of overtime was not part of their projected budget for the fiscal year, so the grant helped cover that cost.  SafeHouse is unfortunately beginning to see an increase in survivors needing financial assistance through their Fresh Start Fund, which pays for things like a month’s rent, utility payment, and copies of birth certificates.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him atdfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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