What a difference in a couple of months… I started this letter as we began designing our FY19 annual report; our chance to celebrate the hard work by survivors and advocates and thank you for your generous support. And then everything changed.
Like so many people, the REACH office staff are now working remotely. I went back to gather a few more items to equip my home office and I was struck by the emptiness there. It is an emptiness that feels different from the “end of day” emptiness after many busy hours of conversations and calls and meetings… It was empty of that energy that remains in a space long after the excitement and joy and pain and passion is over, when you can still feel the activity that happened there. Because it had been a week since we left.
The work goes on. And on. We know it is different from what we want it to be. We truly believe that how we do our work matters – and this is not how we want to do our work. As the days, weeks and months move forward, we will be challenged to keep up the momentum of the previous year as we are kept from doing the work the way we want for the survivors, schools, businesses and communities that we serve and facing the reality that the work we report for FY20 might be very different from what came before.
Sharing these reflections on FY19 reminds me of the incredible things that happen day in and day out in that office and in our shelter. The ways in which our staff and volunteers support one another. The obstacles and opportunities that survivors face – usually with an advocate by their side. The validation that children experience in a support group or one on one. The creativity displayed consistently by advocates and prevention team members and fundraisers, and even me during any given work week. The support and investment from people like you is what keeps us going.
Fiscal 2019 was the first year of our new strategic plan, so it was full of new bold steps along with our continuing work with survivors and communities.
Our plan to deepen and expand prevention and community engagement got an injection of resources from Jane’s Trust, a foundation that invests in organizations like REACH to help them get new ideas rolling. With their support, we hired a Volunteer Program Coordinator and developed a focused strategy for deepening community skill building in five communities.
Our partnerships must include working in collaboration with the systems that often present barriers for survivors reaching beyond domestic violence. Over the past year, we have organized with survivors and others to advocate for systemic changes. We have been at the State House with Latina survivors sharing the stories of how the lack of protections in our communities make every day more dangerous for them and their families – and all of us. The #SafeCommunities Act can help change this and we are lifting our voices to Beacon Hill in support of immigrant survivors. Families also struggle to make ends meet because of outdated and immoral rules on benefits for families with children. #LifttheCaponKids has involved many stakeholders all advocating for additional welfare benefits for children born while a family is already receiving welfare. We are also showing up to ask for more reasonable funding for the few remaining safety nets for individuals and families in crisis. While the crisis of this dreadful illness will abate, the crises of abuse, poverty and marginalization will remain.
This past fiscal year was also a year to look inward. Our strategic plan calls for an examination of our staffing resources practices. With a focus on equity, staff and board worked together to develop a fresh approach to compensation and benefits. We aspire to deliver on its aspirations. We added paid time off policies that stem from our values (and the latest changes in MA law) including more flexible sick and bereavement leave as well as a new four-week sabbatical after seven years of working at REACH. We want to acknowledge the impact that this work can have on each of us over time – and help make it more possible for our colleagues to continue working alongside us.
The sustainability we seek for each other must be complemented by sustainability for our organization. Our direct services and community engagement programs represent our investment in each of the 27 cities and towns in our service area – and in the greater good of the Commonwealth and beyond. We invest time, creativity, expertise, passion and heart in everything we do. And, we do not do this work alone. Our fourth priority area is about strengthening our long term financial foundation. We endeavor to be a worthy partner in a community’s health and growth, worthy of investment from schools, businesses, residents and communities. Working in collaboration, we seek to build skills and generate intrinsic motivation within communities who seek to be accountable for promoting healthy relationships and jettisoning abusive behaviors.
Numbers can never tell the full story. Each interaction is powerful and has impacts that we haven’t even begun to measure. We listen and believe and that sets into motion a cascade of changes for a survivor – and for the children who love them and count on them.
We articulated our values anew at the start of last fiscal year and the first of them is “We are all in this together.” These days, we see that phrase everywhere. This crisis has revealed that our world, our country, our cities, our neighborhoods are all in it together – and that we experience the impacts differently.
As we approach our 40th anniversary in 2021, we ask that each one of us makes a commitment now to be part of changing social norms and sustaining this organization for years to come.
Thank you for being connected with REACH and the work to end domestic and sexual violence. Thank you for believing in healthy and safe relationships for individuals and communities. Thank you for your continued support of this vital work in our communities.
Together we will reach beyond domestic violence.
Laura R. Van Zandt
Click here for a downloadable version of our FY19 Annual Report.