Rhonda Morgan Named Distinguished Alumna of the Year
CONTACT: RHONDA MORGAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 5/6/2019
(By Lisa Garrett)
PENDLETON --- Twenty-one years ago Rhonda Morgan was reading the weekly shoppers guide and spotted an employment advertisement for a victim’s advocate, at the time a new state-mandated position in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department.
“I remember looking at my husband and saying, ‘I think I just found my perfect job.’”
She was right. For more than two decades she has dedicated herself to victim’s advocacy -- which was and still is very personal for Morgan, a domestic violence victim/survivor during her first marriage. “I knew what it felt like to be a victim,” said Morgan, who endured and survived years of abuse from her first husband, a drug addict who took his own life in 1990, leaving her widowed and with two small children. She never dreamed that years later she would be helping persons who had gone through what she had during those 13 turbulent years of marriage. “It’s cathartic for me and a healing process for them (the victims she works with),” said Morgan, who was selected from 66 applicants back in 1998 to be the first victim’s services coordinator for her home county.
First and foremost is making sure the victims’ rights are protected, as well as connecting them with referral agencies, she said. She accompanies them to domestic violence court cases to make sure they are heard or speaks on their behalf, provides transportation, and helps them transition to a new home, such as a shelter like Safe Harbor. Things have changed since her experience, she says. “Back then it was a family matter. You were sent home to make amends. Nobody knew what happened. It was swept under the rug and you moved on. Now, it’s different. There are resources.”
She is on call 24-7 and admits some days are emotionally and physically draining. But she has an overriding desire to make a difference. “I understand what they are going through and I am there for them,” she said.
A graduate of Oakway High School (now West-Oak), Morgan, who lives in West Union, never thought college was in her future.
Right out of high school she married and went to work in industry. Following her husband’s suicide, she decided to quit work and reassess her life. “God had greater plans for me,” she said.
Three months later, she was enrolled in Tri-County Technical College’s Criminal Justice program. “Education was a dream of mine. Education was the best answer to better myself and provide for my two children,” she said.
She chose Tri-County because it was small and she was awarded a full Pell grant. “It was the right time. Tri-County has a hometown appeal -- I felt like a person with a name and I knew my instructors by name.”
The curriculum offered insight into real-world experiences by instructors who had worked in law enforcement and brought their on-the-job training to the classroom. She graduated with honors. “It was something I never dreamed possible, because I had very little self-confidence in my abilities,” she remembers.
Although Morgan graduated debt free, she says the education, memories and connections were worth more than any monetary value. “I learned more at Tri-County than at any other training I have ever had. I just soaked it in. I was 28 years old when I entered my first college class and I expected to be the oldest in class. A lady in her 60’s sat beside me and reminded me you are never too old to learn. She said, ‘If I can do it, you can, too.’”
While a student she did an internship at Parole and Pardon Services (PPS), which turned into a full-time administrative assistant job after graduating in 1992. She enrolled at Southern Wesleyan University and in 1996 received her bachelor’s degree. She was promoted to an agent at PPS where she worked for three more years.
Over the years she has engaged in numerous training opportunities and is certified as a victim assistance specialist, Project Lifesaver Electronic Search instructor, and completed the 2006 National Victim Assistance Academy.
“With every training came something new to learn. I absorbed every bit of knowledge - it makes a difference,” she said.
In 2001 she received the SC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Award for Excellence for her work in law enforcement. The Coalition annually recognizes individuals who have shown outstanding commitment as advocates for victims of violence against women in the areas of law enforcement, the family/summary court judicial system and citizen advocacy.
“Rhonda was part of the grassroots effort that began fundraising for a domestic violence shelter in Oconee County,” said Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw. “She organized several years of candlelight vigils during Domestic Violence Awareness Month each October. In 2014 Oconee County Safe Harbor opened and her grassroots efforts played a huge role in where we are today. Her determination continued as she helped to start the Domestic Abuse Counseling program for offenders, as well as working to have a dedicated investigator and magistrate court specifically for domestic violence,” he said.
In 2008 Morgan helped start the Project Lifesaver Program where at-risk citizens wear a bracelet that can be traced should they become lost or wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism and other related conditions or disorders. She also helped start the Celebrate Christmas with a Hero Program that provides Christmas presents to qualified families who otherwise would not receive presents. The Victim Services Unit now provides services to four of the five cities in Oconee County. She is a certified victim assistance specialist and a graduate of the South Carolina and the National Victim Assistance Academies.
“Rhonda is a dedicated public servant,” said Sheriff Crenshaw. “She plans to retire in May but citizens in Oconee County will continue to benefit from the many programs she started. Her personal life story will continue to benefit others by providing hope that anyone can control his or her future, regardless of what happened in their past. Rhonda has represented the Sheriff’s Star with honor and service. She has dedicated the past 21 years to helping victims in Oconee County. I have no doubt that lives have been saved by the countless number of Orders of Protection that she has personally gone to court with for victims of domestic abuse.”
Morgan and her husband, Rodney, whom she married 1992, just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary. That same day she turned in her retirement letter to the captain. “I love my job, but my family has sacrificed. This is my baby; I was the first one. I helped to put it together and helped it to grow. But it’s time to get a new face and new ideas. He or she can take what we built and make it better,” said Morgan, whose last day on the job is May 31.
She emphasized this is a difficult job.
“You have to find a way to separate yourself at the end of the day. It helps to have a good husband at home and a support system at the sheriff’s department. We are like a family. Nobody understands like law enforcement brothers and sisters. We really depend on each other.”
Sheriff Crenshaw nominated her for the Oconee County Officer of the Year award which she received in March at an annual banquet. She began the month of May with receiving Tri-County Technical College’s Distinguished Alumni award at the May 6 spring commencement. The recipient of this award must have been awarded a degree, diploma, or certificate from Tri-County; must have graduated at least one year ago; and must have made significant contributions to the College, the Alumni Association or the community.
“Both awards are an honor and very humbling,” said Morgan.
She will end the month with retirement.
“For the past 21 years, no two days, no two cases - not even two minutes - have been the same,” she said. She is ready to devote herself full time to family and grandchildren. “It will be a joyous occasion,” she said.
Morgan’s two children are graduates of Tri-County. Marlene Edgar is a graduate of the Expanded Duty Dental Assisting program, and Michael Taylor, a highway patrolman, is a graduate of the Criminal Justice program.
She added she would like to teach as an adjunct instructor for Tri-County’s Criminal Justice program in the future.