Today, St. Petersburg’s domestic violence shelter, Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA, is honoring its executive director for her leadership and longevity.
Linda Osmundson is marking 25 years on the job — a trail-blazing role in which she has stretched her program’s resources to serve as many victims as possible.
“Linda has been a champion for domestic violence victims in our community for decades,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “Her work has literally saved lives and ensured that domestic violence victims and their children have a safe place to stay and get the services they need to get them out of abusive environments. Linda is a hero to many for her tireless efforts on behalf of these vulnerable victims.”
Osmundson came to CASA in 1989, when it had a staff of seven. She had directed shelter programs in West Palm Beach and Gainesville. Under her leadership, CASA grew to a $3.5 million program with 64 full- and part-time staff that was recognized for its innovative prevention programs and wide-ranging community outreach.
Rita Smith, a national domestic violence expert working with the National Football League, said Osmundson had been “very creative” in addressing the unmet need in St. Petersburg.
“She figured out that there’s a lot of people she can help who aren’t in immediate crisis,” Smith said. “(CASA) met people before they were in a dangerous place, where they could begin to get resources and support and find a way out of the violence before it became lethal.”
For instance, CASA pioneered substance-abuse treatment for victims and, in 1996, opened a supervised visitation center. In 1997, the program established a 14-unit transitional-housing program for families preparing for independent living. In 1998, CASA began its Peacemakers Program for pre-school and middle-school students.
As CASA was growing, so was Osmundson. A survivor of spouse abuse, she co-founded the state’s clemency movement for battered women, which sought pardons for women who had been sent to prison for defending themselves. For this, she received the first Florida Governor’s Peace at Home Award.
She was also a founding member of the Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, on which she represented survivors.
“I think Linda was the most strong and singular voice on the task force for battered women and children,” said Robin Hassler Thompson, the panel’s executive director. “She worked with prosecutors, law enforcement, judges and health care professionals — all of whom had their own points of view, but the survivor had a role with all those people, all of the time. She played an invaluable role.”
Osmundson has helped the battered-women’s movement in other countries as well. She’s presented at a number of conferences and traveled to Bogotá, Prague, Russia, China, India, Cyprus, Japan, Singapore and Melbourne, Australia.
She’s also been quick to volunteer with other community organizations and civic groups, and CASA has long partnered with the criminal justice system, city and county government, and providers of health care, legal aid, mental health treatment and homeless services.
“It’s been critical,” said Gaelynn Thurman, vice president of the CASA board, of Osmundson’s networking. “And it will continue to be critical as we go through this shelter expansion.”
As she nears retirement, Osmundson is determined to complete a $12 million capital campaign that will expand CASA from 30 to 100 beds. She said the shelter had been forced to turn away 1,400 people last year — half of them children — and she expects a similar total this year.
Last year, CASA bought five acres in the Lealman area, and in June construction began on a 40,000-square-foot facility, which will include a clinic and a child-care center. It’s expected to open next year.
“We still need to raise nearly $5 million from the community,” Osmundson said.
She was thrilled when the board recently announced that it would name its administration building for her — “in perpetuity,” Thurman said, meaning that whatever happens to CASA in years to come, part of it will always be named for Osmundson.
“It made sense from the board’s perspective that now is the time to rename the building for, really, the creator of all those facets of what CASA provides,” Thurman said.
Osmundson is married to Maurice Kurtz. She’s been a recipient of the St Petersburg Bar’s Liberty Bell Award and the St Petersburg Chamber’s Community Service Woman of the Year Award. She is a past president of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.