January 25, 2018
By Laura Van Zandt, Executive Director

What Laura is Thinking: New Beginnings

You are worth it. You deserve this.

Those short sentences contain powerful words.

This week, REACH hosted an open house at our new offices. The move to new space was a long time coming and, as you have read over the past year, we are really excited about it. Our excitement stems not just from having more room and new stuff; we are most pleased with the message it sends.

You are worth it. You deserve this.                                                 

When a survivor of domestic violence takes a step toward thinking about life beyond an abusive relationship, they face a vast unknown – a frightening, dangerous, possibly impoverished unknown. Taking that step can be full of ambivalence, sadness, and fear so when they open the door to that uncertain future, we want the message to be clear.

You are worth it. You deserve this.

Our commitment to those words guided us – with your support – in building a shelter 7 years ago for families that offers private spaces and spacious common areas, kitchens with good appliances, well-built cabinets and full accessibility. And when we finally got the opportunity to create space for change in a new office – again with your support – we did it with those words once again on our minds.

You are worth it. You deserve this.

Beautiful spread of food provided by Moody’s Delicatessen for our open house, in front of the new donor wall

And Tuesday night, the visitors to our space felt those words. They repeated those words back to us as they toured the offices, meetings rooms, kitchen, training room, and children’s area. They entered the reception area and exclaimed, “oh my!” They saw a professional, stable, accessible, welcoming and safe space. And when they left, they understood more about how and where the work happens.

Staff leading our tours heard questions about every nook and cranny, and we shared knowledge, insights, stories and visions. People wanted to enter every advocate’s office and know more about what happens in there. One advocate shared how in our old office, she had a cubicle and had to grab whatever empty space was available for a meeting with a survivor. That uncertainty, that lack of stability, was unsettling for folks and as a result, she often met people in spaces outside the office that were more consistent. Now, everyone wants to meet at the office, in her office.

Before we opened the doors last night, I walked around and spoke with colleagues. I noticed how everyone had added décor – images, words, plants, and pictures. Every office was different of course. These items are important; when difficult conversations are happening, a frame or a bowl can provide a focal point, something to look at that grounds a person during the conversation. There is also a familiarity that is comforting and settling – so helpful when there is difficult work to do.

Guests on tours stopped to ogle at the storage spaces – who knew? – and that sparked many conversations about “what can I do?” – paper goods or toiletry drives, backpacks, holiday gifts, diapers, and more. Visitors felt a connection to the work in new ways – and offered new ideas. Some visitors actually arrived with donations (and we had somewhere to put them!) including shampoo, paper towels, stuffed animals, and even art for the office.

We had the opportunity to share – in greater depth – some of the approaches and tools we use doing education, advocacy, support groups, training and collaboration in the communities we serve. Visitors learned about our psycho-educational group curriculum – and even participated in an activity. They heard about what the group experience means, from a member of our Speakers Bureau. She shared about a time when she got very scary news about her abuser and her first thought was – I have to get to REACH! She had no idea what or who would be there when she arrived. She just knew that she wanted to be at REACH to figure out what to do next. A glass of water, a willing ear, some tissues and a hug – then some hard work to address the situation and move on.

You are worth it. You deserve this.

Executive Director Laura Van Zandt leads a toast to our friends and supporters at an open house held in our new office

Someone asked me if the space was what we had envisioned… I took a moment. So many people were part of creating the vision for this space. What I envisioned was the product of all of our hopes and dreams and intentions. This space is everything I envisioned because the people who helped create it are here with us – working, volunteering, planning, collaborating, supporting, giving – everyone is part of creating space for conversation, healing, empowerment and change. And we all deserve it.