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Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center is changing

Director explains what lies ahead and outlines a strategy for the future

September 2, 2012
Messenger News

Some of you may have heard the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center is facing a restructuring scheduled to take place July 1, 2013. The reason for this strategic funding and service plan for victim services is a budget deficit facing our programs across the state of Iowa. Over the past four years I have seen the available money for our program shrink and unfortunately we are not alone. Programs struggling to make payroll are still keeping their doors open. Outreach offices are closing and response time in times of crisis is compromised.

Today D/SAOC has not had to close offices or cut programs. We are operating on a bare bone budget, but are better off than others. Hard decisions had to be made by the Crime Victim Assistance Division located in Des Moines. This fiscal year Attorney General Miller authorized a one-time transfer of approximately $1.1 million from the reserve to minimize the federal and state funding cuts for victim services. This is the last year we will have that money to make up the deficit. Obviously that cannot continue. Every program in the state will be affected. Many will close. D/SAOC is devastated, but we have a plan.

New service regions

The first decision made by CVAD was to form new service regions. D/SAOC will be part of the north central region and providing shelter for 20 counties. Again this restructuring will not take place till July 2013 and will take months to finalize. Changes to D/SAOC include the loss of outreach services - both adult and child and prevention education. Those services will be picked up by another program. We all asked how this could happen and why. The answer is very simple. Money. Resources are scarce. A plan to use available resources as effectively as possible was the only answer we are told. We can start with a clean slate and to develop thoughtful programming. Change encourages innovation. If we are not willing to develop new ways to help victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault we will lose ground.

We hope we can serve people we have never reached before by doing things differently. Sexual assault survivors rarely seek shelter. Most do not seek hospital services or the criminal justice system so we need to connect with them in other ways while still providing hospital advocacy those who choose it.

Most victims of intimate partner homicide had never contacted a program. We must explore new strategies to reach those at greatest risk.

We want to support victims across their lifespan of coping with trauma. Many only seek help long after they experience trauma. We want every door to be open to a helpful response. We have never been able to do this alone. Our community partners can't do it alone either.

Healing strategies

Yes, things will change for D/SAOC and we hope new healing strategies emerge from our program as we move through this restructuring. We plan to do this by having the best shelter possible for victims needing a safe haven. If we concentrate only on shelter services we can provide programming we have never had the luxury of doing.

The ongoing effects of trauma are very complicated. When you are injured by someone you love and trust your entire belief about yourself, other people and the world is damaged. As a team of dedicated, multicultural and caring staff we begin the work of comforting and restoring a belief system distorted by violence. This is challenging and difficult as people who work in this business become victims to "vicarious trauma." Physical and emotional stress is part of this work. No job is too big or too small. We are asked to do everything a wife, mother, caretaker, husband, lawyer, counselor, pastor and friend would do to help a loved one. That is our role, our job and our passion. We lift, tug, carry and tote furniture, clothes, food, electronics and bedding. We trade our cars for pickups so we can move folks. We pick up donations by the truck load. We go to a food bank and work at the Key on Central. All of this is part of what it takes to keep people safe.


My particular favorite is asking for donations. I was raised on a small farm in Iowa. We asked for nothing. For the first few years my throat would tighten and I could barely speak when asking for donations. It is better now but I still get nervous when calling on the phone for a donation. That is my job. I must make sure the money is in the bank to make payroll, pay utilities, buy food, repair this old building and have money in the bank so we are considered fiscally strong when audit time comes. I have stretched my capacity to be humble to a rubber band ready to break. It is all for the cause and who am I to say this is too tough? I have everything to be grateful for every time I walk through the door.

When this "strategic plan for DSAOC" was released I can't tell you how upset I was. That does not adequately describe the emotions that blew through the room of directors of victim service shelters and outreach services across the state. I felt fear. What could possibly be worse than closing programs everyone has worked so hard to keep open? As I move through this process I am astounded at my staff and now my new region directors that are working side by side with me to get through this with the desire to make this work and not only that to make things better. Talk about turning lemons to lemonade. I am witnessing this and grateful to be a part of this transformation and not just a bystander. This is not a plan I wanted. Never did I want to think about giving up even one little piece of D/SAOC. The pride and joy we feel along with the satisfaction of doing the right thing cannot be replaced by another job. It is happening with or without our willingness to change and we will be anxious, sad and overwhelmed but we are changing and have taken charge of the change by being proactive.

I want to thank D/SAOC board of directors and D/SAOC Foundation board for supporting a remodeling project to get us ready to safely house additional victims of crime. I want to thank all the volunteers who go to the Key on Central and go to the hospital when after hour emergencies occur. Included in that list of friends is RoJohn Home Improvement who is more than a contractor to D/SAOC. The Community Outreach volunteers with First Evangelical Free Church join the list of supporters we could not do without. Now here I go. If you can help paint, rip up carpet, move furniture or help us with a cash donation please call 955-2273 and ask for Connie or Brenda. The list of needs is endless and particularly now with the pending restructure of services. We want to be ready and capable of providing the best shelter money can't buy but love can.

Connie Harris is executive director of D/SAOC.



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