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CHAPEL HILL -- Just two months ago, Mary and Dave Dickinson watched domestic violence force their best employee out of the state.

 

And she wasn't the first victim the Molly Maid owners had employed for their cleaning company -- she was the eighth.

 

"There are many situations where Dave and I would be called in to help in a situation," Mary Dickinson said. "We didn't know where to go to get these individuals help. That's how we really developed our passion for that cause."

 

For eight years, that passion has been driving the Dickinsons' socially responsible approach to their business.

 

Molly Maid, which offers cleaning and maid services, has been nationally involved in the fight against domestic violence through its Ms. Molly Foundation. The foundation, which began around 1992, collects money and goods for safe houses and shelters for victims of domestic violence.

 

The company raised $106,000 nationally last year through the Ms. Molly foundation, Mary Dickinson said.

 

But after receiving calls in the middle of the night from emergency rooms and parking lots from employees and friends, the Dickinsons wanted to do more.

 

"A lot of people don't think it goes on in our community," Dave Dickinson said. "Chapel Hill's an upscale community and a lot of people feel domestic violence doesn't happen in those communities. It's not true at all."

 

In the first six months of 2008, the Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County, which deals with victims of domestic violence, already has served 334 individuals.

 

When a Molly Maid business decides to get involved with raising money for Ms. Molly Foundation, it can choose a domestic violence agency where all the funds that are raised will go.

 

The Dickinsons began to work closely with the FVPC, which helps find safe places for victims of domestic violence and provides a variety of counseling services.

 

The Dickinsons initiated an annual silent auction four years ago, which raised $2,500 in its first year. Last year, they raised $28,000. During October, domestic violence awareness month, they donate a percentage of revenues to FVPC.

 

"It's powerful when businesses get involved and it's been great to have that connection with Dave and Mary," said Caroline Wells Pence, vice president of the FVPC Board of Directors.

 

The Dickinsons also have worked to recruit other Molly Maid franchises to get involved, by serving on the board of directors for the foundation.

 

"We spent quite a lot of time going around the country to get all Molly Maids involved," said Dave Dickinson. "We do our best to point out the good things about getting in the Ms. Molly Foundation."

 

They have traveled to regional meetings for four years, and are pleased with the fruits of their labor.

 

"When we got involved, only 30 owners were participating," Dave Dickinson said. "Last year we got up to 170 owners."

 

Pleased, but not satisfied he said -- their goal is 100 percent cooperation.

 

"They will do anything, whether it is big picture glamorous or just using their Mr. Handyman truck to take things over to the event they host," Pence said.

 

But Pence said that financial aid is not the only way Molly Maid has helped support the cause.

 

"Domestic violence is a more hidden social problem," she said. "Their efforts help lessen the shame and lessen the misbelief that it isn't that big of a problem.

 

"It is a less palatable issue to talk about than building homes or supporting the animal shelter or raising money for the school," Pence added. "I think it's scary for people to think about domestic violence and that it touches someone they know."

 

But that fear, which first touched the Dickinsons nearly a decade ago, has only inspired them to continue their outreach.

 

"It's not just putting people in the shelter and thinking everything will be OK," Mary Dickinson said. "Some are afraid for their lives. They have to move. They have to quit their jobs. They have to take their kids out of school. Unless they have organizations like the FVPC, they can't do it alone."

 

ABOUT MOLLY MAID:

 

Molly Maid is a sibling brand within the Service Brands International, Inc., family of brands. Molly Maid is continually ranked among the Top 100 (83) concepts in Entrepreneur magazine’s annual Franchise 500Ò. There are more than 400 Molly Maid territories in the U.S., and another 300 internationally. Molly Maid world headquarters: 3948 Ranchero Dr., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48108. 1-800-886-6559. www.mollymaid.com.