A buzzer sounds at the door of Passages, a 35-year old shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Richland Center.
Samantha brings her friend Sara and her children, after yet another incidence of Sara’s husband’s bullying and physical abuse.
These names are made up, but the details come from several different situations throughout Richland, Crawford, Juneau, Grant and Vernon counties.
What happens when a domestic abuse victim reaches out to Passages?
Staff members arrive at work each day knowing the range of problems before them. Most are connected through phone and text messages 24/7.
Kathy Nondorf is long time Survivor Services Coordinator and Shelter Director. She brings Sara and Samantha and the children into the comfortable living room and lets them settle in and tell their story, while assessing immediate needs.
Sometimes, the first encounter is a phone call to the 24-hour crisis line. When fielding first contact phone calls, the first step is to assess if the caller is safe or needs to make an immediate move. Options might be to call law enforcement, go to a friend or relative, come to the shelter, or ask for a return phone call from an advocate.
In addition, Kathy keeps the facility clean and comfortable. She helps clients with referrals for community support services such as W-2 applications, food pantry, transportation or childcare.
Most importantly, Kathy is available, and may lead informal group discussions or have a lengthy one-tt-one conversation.
Sara is already known to Sexual Assault Advocates, Becky and Vicki, who focus on Vernon and Crawford (Becky) and Richland (Vicki) counties. They provide general support and also stay abreast of medical and legal issues related to sexual assault.
When Becky gets a call, she lets the victim talk, and might guide the conversation to help make a plan to get out of the situation immediately or put the pieces in place for future moves.
The victim may need to gather belongings and move to the shelter. Most often, other options are available with friends or family. Sometimes a victim just “takes off” and is homeless for a time.
In the process, victims start to identify what they need to do in their journey to a better life.
This time, Sara has bruises on her face and forehead and complains of being choked. When she hears the word “choked,” Kathy decides to bring in Bev Pittman Burns, Court and Medical Systems Advocate.
From her 12 years of experience, Bev knows that “choked” means “strangled,” and that medical assessment is necessary as there may be internal injuries to her throat. Bev accompanies Sara to Urgent Care and stands by during medical evaluation.
Bev Burns has extensive training from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence on medical and legal procedures, and will help to complete Sara’s ‘Victim Impact Statement.’ This will be used to request a temporary restraining order.
Bev will stay with Sara for meetings with the district attorney and in the courtroom, but as an advocate Bev cannot make a statement.
Sara has to find it in herself to move forward. She and her children will stay in the shelter, while she puts the pieces of her life together again.
A future step for someone like Sarah and her children might be Ada James Place, a transitional housing facility for families who are ready to move on from the shelter.
Linda Laurance-Walsh, Ada James Place’s Transitional Living Advocate, explains her role is to attend to the maintenance of the facility and to ensure that tenants keep up with their rent. She assists tenants to get a driver’s license or job skills, find employment and childcare, and secure a more permanent living situation.
Linda’s work is client-centered, helping them move on from physical and emotional instability and fear to a better life.
Maggie Drexler is Youth Services Coordinator. Her desk near the playroom allows her to interact with children, from infants through teenagers.
Sometimes, she organizes afterschool or summer activities, cares for children when the moms go to court or medical appointments, and provides a listening ear for moms or older children who need to talk.
Maggie will soon offer teacher in-service training. She promotes the idea that children who survive family violence can develop resilience and strength to have a better life in the future.
Passages Executive Director Joanne Rausch might be directly involved in client situations, or might be involved with human resources, fundraising, grant writing or community outreach activities.
How did these dedicated workers get into this field? Some come as interns from programs such as the Human Services Associate Program in the Wisconsin Technical College System. Others start out as volunteers. Many have had a personal experience that makes them want to give back.
Passages is not a “professional” program in the sense that licensed social workers and therapists provide services. Instead, they employ the advocate model, which works to address basic human needs at the time of crisis through the period of gaining strength and independence.
Initial training focuses on understanding abusers and abusive behaviors. In the words of Will Buros, a former staff person, “I began to see that the real issues are power and control. One has to learn to be non-controlling to keep things from going from bad to worse. That training turned my thinking around. You can’t ‘fix things’.”
Victims “need to be picked up lots of times before they can stand.” They need someone to help with the very basics of gathering belongings and physically moving away from dangerous situations.
A change in self-image from being called ugly, or fat, or disgusting, might cause an emotional drain that is difficult to turn around and recovery can take decades.
Jail time for both male and female abusers, restraining orders, heavy fines, and months of probation are some of the most obvious evidence seen of the disruption of lives. Longer-term effects can be devastating, especially to children. Passages helps victims to put their lives back together.
Passages will celebrate 35 years of service on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the Wallace Center at UW Richland with the Annual Fall Bounty Dinner. Dinner and raffle tickets are now being sold.
Questions about Passages, referrals, or donations can be sent to PO Box 546, Richland Center, WI 53581, or 608-647-8775. The 24-hour crisis line is 1-800-236-HEAL or 608-647-3616. Calls and texts from Crawford and Vernon counties can be sent to Becky at 608-604-3434, which is also a 24-hour crisis line.