Creating Space for Connection

REACH’s Director of Prevention Programs, Jessica Teperow

Last March, my husband and I experienced the biggest surprise of our lives. When I was just under 32 weeks pregnant, our daughter decided she was ready to be born.

As a result, the first several weeks of her life were spent in the Brigham and Women’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The care our family received there was out of this world; each day she was there, I would spend at least 12 hours there with her. The nurses quickly become like family.

As our daughter progressed and grew stronger, she was moved to the Growth and Development Unit (GDU)—the last stop before we could bring her home. While we were there, a brand new—and long anticipated, from what I could gather from the nurses—GDU opened. As REACH settles into its new space, I’ve been thinking of the transition the nurses went through when they moved to the new GDU.

Like our old office, the GDU that my daughter was first moved to was tiny and cramped. There were about 16-18 babies in a large room separated in the center by half walls. Families had little to no privacy, and the noise was overwhelming with alarms for different babies constantly sounding off.

The new GDU was cleaner, quieter and much less chaotic. There were only three babies to a room and families enjoyed much more privacy than they had before. It quickly became obvious, though, that there were trade-offs for the staff who worked there. One of the trade-offs of the new space was that it was not as easy for the nurses to quickly assess what was going on with all of the patients and to support each other. In the old space, if a nurse needed assistance, another one could quickly jump in. In the old GDU, as I held and nursed my daughter, I could also easily hear the nurses consulting with one another, commiserating about the challenges they faced—and laughing together. During a time in my life that was filled with anxiety, hearing the sound of their laughter brought me comfort and hope.

Like those nurses in the GDU, we laugh a lot at REACH. In fact, when I first started working here, I was struck by how often I heard laughter. From behind the walls of our conference room where support groups meet, in advocates offices, often in the hallways, in Speakers Bureau Meetings, and around our kitchen table, we have shared and heard stories of pain and we have also shared joy. The sound of that laughter has become one of the defining parts of my experience at REACH, and I cherish it. To me, it is the sound of resilience.

Our new office space is a vast improvement over our old space. When survivors come here, they now enjoy space that allows for one-on-one conversations that are comfortably private. They enjoy sun-drenched meeting rooms. The dedicated space for children is inviting and even looks playful.

As our staff has grown over the years, the dedication to the mission and our commitment to the work has as well. We may be bigger, but we still value and believe in the importance of small actions. We have not forgotten that oftentimes the most impactful thing we can do is simply to listen and believe. I have no doubts that we will continue to grow and deepen the work we do in our new space in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. And certainly in ways that would not have been possible in our old space.

As we prepared to move into our new space, even with all my excitement, I couldn’t help but worry if some of what made REACH feel like REACH would change or be lost. I wondered if we would still hear laughter ring out from meeting spaces and in our hallways.

We’ve been in our new space for over a week now, and I’m happy to report that not only do I still hear laughter often, it seems to have multiplied. I feel a sense of excitement in myself and from my colleagues about what is possible here.

Domestic violence is an issue that can be difficult to combat because it so often shrouded in shame and isolation. Much of the work we do is to work to offer opportunities to build social connections and decrease that isolation. While this has always been our mission, our old space had very few spaces where groups could gather together, and as our staff and volunteer numbers increased we began to outgrow the spaces we did have. Our new office space allows us to be together, and increases our ability to be a space where community members can gather. Rather than feeling more disconnected in a larger place, our goal is that our new office space will foster opportunities for relationship and community building.

When someone walks into our office for the first time, I hope that what they see and hear will let them know that this is a place where they can be seen and heard. A place where they can heal, in their own way and at their pace. A place where they don’t have to feel alone, where they can build social connection when they’re ready. I hope that each person who walks through our new doors will feel that while our space is new, our commitment to ending domestic violence by building healthy communities is the same.