Share your career history and how you made your way to United Way.
I got my first career opportunity right after graduating from Wichita State University, with the Wichita Children’s Home Street Outreach Services program. There, I first learned the horrible truths around human trafficking in our community. At that time, we were educating on the basics of human trafficking and that it was happening in our community. The more I worked with survivors of this horrible crime, the more I learned about the complex abuse that kept them chained to their abuser.
That lead me to my work at a local domestic violence program, Catholic Charities Harbor House, where I was able to continue walking alongside survivors as a specialist of human trafficking and domestic violence in a trauma-informed, safe house setting.
I later became WSU’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking (CCHT) Service Coordinator, providing direct survivor services for 13 years. With my role at CCHT, I went into the schools and taught elementary through college students age-appropriate prevention curriculum and provided tools to reduce the chances of harm. At that time, trafficking statistics showed that 89% of local cases of human trafficking happened from someone that our youth often knew, even a family member, not a stranger abduction as Hollywood often portrays. I continued my work with survivors in the community leading a mentor/leadership program and coordinating survivor healing groups.
I began working with Family Promise of Greater Wichita to help families facing housing insecurities. The nationally-based model operates a shelter program by partnering with community churches, which leads to low overhead. When COVID hit, churches shut down, but the need for family shelters only grew, so Family Promise was able to shift to meet the community needs almost overnight. We were able to continue serving families in unique ways by creating prevention and diversion services, building up a transitional housing program, and using a static shelter model. Working with families facing housing insecurities taught me more about the gaps and barriers in our community around housing.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from an old colleague, looking for resources for a survivor needing safe, permanent housing. When I thought about this call, and all the other callers that I couldn’t help find housing, I felt a certain desperation and panic for those professionals, and a sense of responsibility for survivors. My concern about those survivors and advocates led me to United Way of the Plains as the DV Housing Navigator.
What are some of the challenges you see in our community that your work with United Way of the Plains will help solve?
Our community is fortunate to have so many programs and services dedicated to making a difference for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. These services are often the difference between life and death. Statistics show one out of three women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime; for those who face homelessness, the likelihood of DV increases another 50%.
Programs that work with survivors in the community run at 100% capacity, year-round. Every single survivor that enters a safe house shelter program needs to have safe, affordable housing to be successful.
United Way can unite these community programs and provide a platform for them to work together. Our role can help track data to show community needs, best practices, identify gaps in services needed, research best practices, cross train Impact ICT Continuum of Care (CoC) providers and bring more dollars to survivor services. Victim service providers face unique obstacles around confidentiality and safety that some of the other CoC programs do not; my hope is to create safe avenues for those survivors to have access to housing in a reliable, confidential way.
What can success look like when working with someone who escapes domestic violence? What impact does that have on you as someone helping?
Success looks different to every single person. I empower survivor advocates to make those decisions, set goals and to give them as many great options to choose from as I can. As community advocates, we must continue to celebrate small successes and remember that it starts with that first step—which some days can be as simple as getting out of bed and taking shower. Ultimately, the best success is to move past being a victim and survivor to being a community leader. When I see one of my survivors working to make positive change in their community, I get super excited. I also see success when we create laws that hold people accountable for violence and abuse, and when systems work together to remove barriers and promote healing and growth for survivors.