When REACH was founded in 1981, it began with the idea that domestic violence can happen anywhere because it is part of the fabric of our society – it can happen in the leafy suburbs as in the big city, at the end of the long driveway, as well as in the apartment next door. There are so many reasons that survivors access support. There are those that flee and seek shelter and safety. There are those who stay and seek support to cope with the impact of abuse. There are those who left long ago and still struggle with the pain and guilt and shame, as well as the gaslighting, custody disputes, financial hardships, isolation, and for some, devastating injuries.
Working in community – to increase awareness, promote change and offer personalized support – is a fundamental aspect of our work. The community program at REACH includes individual support and advocacy as well as ongoing efforts to address the barriers faced by so many survivors and the structures that complicate their struggle to reach beyond domestic violence.
Often, when someone pictures a solution for domestic violence, they see a shelter. Providing shelter for survivors of domestic and sexual violence is a vital part of the work we do. The roof – and the beds and the kitchen and the laundry and playroom and family room – these spaces are the container for the advocacy work within. One year ago, we welcomed Isabel Rivera, a longtime colleague in this work, to our shelter team. As Director of Residential Programs, Isabel leads a team offering advocacy and support to families in the shelter. She brings years of experience working in shelter and in community to meet the needs of and support the goals of survivors.
Over the past 14 years, REACH’s community advocacy program grew with the leadership of Maria Pizzimenti. Coming from youth empowerment and housing justice, Maria helped build teams of dedicated, knowledgeable advocates who serve as generalists – working side by side with survivors on every aspect of their journey. In the shelter or in our office, building trust and connection provides the foundation for our work with survivors. REACH advocates listen to and believe survivors, offering resources and options; but not telling survivors what to do. Each survivor brings their own strengths and working together with an advocate, they make decisions, pursue goals and endure difficulties as they reach beyond domestic violence.
While supporting this personal and intimate work with each survivor, our community work is also about changing systems that embody abusive values and enable abusers to control and manipulate survivors. The combination of these duties makes sense – and created a monstrously demanding role. In January, Maria accepted a new challenge. We are happy for her to take all that she learned – and her many strengths – to a new place, doing trauma informed and strengths-based work. And we are happy that, with her encouragement, we have reconceived the community program leadership and created two complementary roles in our community program.
Pam Jordan, who brought her deep experience working with individuals and families to her role as a community advocate will now combine those strengths with her supervisory skills as she steps up as the Director of Community Advocacy. Pam will supervise our team of five advocates, develop and deliver ongoing training, and facilitate and expand support group programming.
Alongside the individual support and advocacy, we have created a new role – Director of Policy and Systems Change Advocacy – someone who will build relationships with providers and partners, increase resources for survivors, develop evaluation tools for the program, and coordinate with our child and adolescent therapist to build out programming for families and children. We are excited to welcome Vilma Uribe into this position where she will combine her vast knowledge of domestic and sexual violence intervention and prevention practice with her commitment to social justice and systems change. Vilma will work with Gladys Ortiz who has done extensive individual, group, and systems advocacy work with immigrant Latinx survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and with Catalina Folch, REACH’s bilingual clinician who works with families to address multi-generational trauma using individual and group approaches, while also engaging educational and supportive systems to enhance their understanding of trauma-informed practice.
As we implement these changes and live into these transitions, we look forward to the work we will do together – and with all of you. Thank you for standing by our side as we continue to grow and support the survivors in our community.