WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- A nonprofit in Lycoming County is hoping to make custody exchanges safer for families in central Pennsylvania.
Employees at the YWCA know that when a family separates, everyone is affected. That's why they are trying to create a safe and comfortable environment where parents can pick up and drop off their kids.
Under the YWCA roof in Williamsport, there's a safe place for those surviving domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes, but the support this organization provides goes well beyond the front door.
"We want to prevent violence from ensuing when children are exchanged between parents," explained program director Amber Morningstar.
The YWCA Northcentral PA has partnered with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to open Lycoming County's first custody exchange center.
"Traditionally, parents would go to a friend or relative's home would meet at a public location like at Wegmans or a police station, and what we were finding was that there was no one there to monitor that and there was still that face-to-face contact and the children were exposed to the tension that could be in that relationship," Morningstar said.
To protect those using the YWCA facility, the exchange program is held at the Sharwell building on East Street in the city.
Parents who have a court-ordered or notarized custody agreement are allowed to use the space free.
YWCA advocates work with the families at the pick-up and drop-off site so parents don't have to meet face to face
"The other parent will arrive on this side of the building 15 minutes later and drop off or pick up the children and leave and the other parent departs a few minutes after that," Morningstar explained.
To ensure that both parents and children feel safe, Williamsport police are notified before a custody exchange. There's also a panic button inside this building in case of an emergency.
The YWCA wants to prevent deadly situations like a murder/suicide in Lycoming County back in 2013. Seth Snyder and his estranged girlfriend Cherilyn Kephart were not supposed to have any contact with one another
She met him to pick up their children.
"He met her at the end of the driveway, drove her down the road, and killed her and set the car on fire and killed himself. These children are both without either parent," Morningstar said.
The program is only open during certain days and on some holidays.