One of the more exciting roles of the Executive Director of the Action Alliance is to visit the member sexual and domestic violence agencies. This is one important way we keep in touch with what is happening in our cause area across the Commonwealth. I decided to share my latest trip to Southwest Virginia with you.
It is early afternoon and I am pulling up next to a huge, red Victorian house in Covington, Virginia. Tamy Mann, Executive Director, meets me in the parking lot, and it is not too long before Miss Kitty, the “Deputy Director,” joins us. Tamy and Miss Kitty give me a tour of the playground that was recently updated by the Rotary Club and then take me over to a garage/shed that is being converted into a group room, a play space for teens, and with the help of some community grant funds, new office space to accommodate a rapidly expanding staff.
Thanks to new federal Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA) funding administered by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services money that comes from criminal fines and fees converted into vital victim services—Safehome Systems in Covington will have 24-hour staff on-site for the first time EVER. Those staff will welcome, support and counsel survivors in a warm and welcoming space thanks to Tamy and many members of the community who have worked hard over the past three years to complete major renovations to the shelter and offices and major improvements to the services offered throughout Craig and Bath counties. I spend a few hours with Tamy and her staff—and then leave them as they prepare from more interviews for nighttime and weekend staff. I head south and west…headed to Bristol on Tuesday.
A side note: when you have been driving on country roads and have no idea where you are, but you are trusting your GPS, and then your GPS is telling you to turn on a country road that has a big, big sign that says “GPS not advisable on this route” what do you do??!
Stephanie Poe, Executive Director of the Crisis Center greets me in the Center’s offices which are located firmly on the Virginia side of the VA/TN line that runs through Bristol. Stephanie heads up a small but mighty staff who are delivering a diverse set of services meeting a wide range of community needs. In addition to providing sexual violence services the agency operates a regional suicide hotline, manages a service that provides support to home-bound elderly and disabled adults, and fills community gaps for other crisis and support services, including the current support group for autism spectrum families. They do all of this with the help of a large and diverse group of volunteers and “Experience Works” employees who are all over the age of 55.
As I am leaving Stephanie shares the plans for their newest fundraiser: a new and improved version of “Bristolopoly!” As someone who LOVES Monopoly and has fond memories of weekend games that lasted for hours, this is just TOO COOL!
Two visits today!! The weather is still beautiful, and the drive from Bristol to Gate City takes me through some beautiful countryside. There are three big highlights to this leg of my journey. The first is hearing about the plans Michelle Hensley, Executive Director of Hope House, is making after receiving a significant increase in state and VOCA funding. Hope House will be expanding to add sexual violence services—for the first time ever in this part of Virginia!!! Overall the staff size will double—making it possible to add a wide range of services for children and adults and making those services available 24 hours a day. Funds will also be applied to leasing a new outreach office—and moving staff offices out of the shelter will make space for 10 additional beds, which will truly be a blessing in this community where the shelter has been full since March!
The second highlight of this trip was meeting some of the new Hope House staff—what an awesome, passionate group of advocates. And the third highlight had to be the pastries. They have one heck of a bakery in Gate City!!
From Gate City I traveled down the road to Norton to meet with Marybeth Adkins, Executive Director of Family Crisis Support Services (FCSS). FCSS is another agency that is providing a wide range of community services—both sexual and domestic violence services, prevention education, and homeless prevention and shelter services. Sexual and domestic violence services are also expanding in this southwest community as a result of state and federal funding increases: FCSS will be adding children’s services and like many other agencies, the funds also made it possible to reach the level of 24/7 staffing that ensures that survivors can reach a trained advocate any time of the day or night.
I enjoyed learning about a few unique partnerships that are working well in Norton. One of those partnerships is with a local movie theater that advertises the hotline number during each movie, provides movie tickets for shelter residents, and collaborates with FCSS to make safe space available for survivors. Family Crisis Support Services was also gearing up for a fun fall fundraiser while I was there—a flag football game between the Sheriff’s office and the fire department!!
Thursday morning I arrive at the Clinch Valley Community Action Agency just as Jennifer Bourne, Director of Family Crisis Services, arrives for work. She takes me on a quick tour of the shelter (a spacious and well designed space that seems to be bustling this morning!) before heading up to her office. As I sit down in Jennifer’s office I am delighted by her bulletin board—a wonderful collection of posters, flyers, bumper stickers and more that provide a visible herstory of the movement!!
Perhaps most impressive of all is a flip chart page that is posted across the room with no fewer than 25 activities that are planned for October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Family Crisis Services has a high level of commitment to educating their community –about the issues of sexual and domestic violence, about the resources that are available, and about healthy relationships. From a Porch Light Campaign to a PJ party—there is something for everyone!!
The new state and VOCA funds are making it possible for Family Crisis Services to expand sexual violence prevention programming from the high school to the middle school, add the service of sheltering pets, and provide professional mental health counseling for trauma survivors who need that vital service. There will also be 4 new staff at the shelter—making 24-hour staff available for the first time!!
From Tazewell I head north and east to visit the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley (WRC) in Radford. It is always a pleasure to see my long-time friend Pat Brown and to hear about how programs are evolving at the Women’s Resource Center. The Women’s Resource Center is one of Virginia’s very first sexual and domestic violence agencies and has been a leader in the field since those very early days. I spend some time with Pat talking about an emerging concern of Executive Directors across the state—how to bring their agencies into compliance with the new federal overtime rules by December 1. For agencies that have relied upon advocates to work flexible hours, to be on-call on weekends and overnight, to accompany survivors to the hospital and to court and to stay with them as long as they want and need an advocate, even when that is 6, 10, 12 hours or more the new overtime rules may be very costly to implement. Directors are balancing fair labor practices, which they value highly, with strong advocacy and support for survivors, which they value highly as well!
Even in this agency with nearly 40 staff, the VOCA funds and the state funding increases are making a difference. WRC has added Justice System Navigators to work on behalf of survivors in each of the localities they serve, a campus Outreach Specialist to provide dedicated services to students, and other outreach staff who will expand the reach of the agency—including connections with the LGBTQ community. This was a great way to wrap up my trip—a cold beverage, some yummy nachos (thank you Laura Weaver), and a sense of having come full circle.
Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years.
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