Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Hear from Family Tree

Christen Martines | October 13, 2021

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Authored By: Sarah Martin, Prevention & Advocacy Specialist, Family Tree Domestic Violence Outreach Program

At Family Tree, our staff, interns, and volunteers are working diligently to support survivors of domestic violence using a trauma-informed, client-centered approach to meet survivors where they are in their journey. In honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we asked team members from each of our domestic violence programs to share their perspectives and experience working in this field.

The first team member we are highlighting is with Family Tree’s Legal Advocacy Program:

What is your first name and position?
Heidi, Lead Legal Advocate.

How long have you been with Family Tree? 
2 years.

How long have you been doing this kind of work?
Over 16 years.

What draws you to this type of work? Why do you do it?
The legal aspect of the work. I do it to help survivors find some modicum of justice and safety.

Can you describe a significant moment or situation you’ve experienced in this work that has made an impact on you? 
I had a client with significant cognitive delays who had survived terrible abuse and I was blessed to witness the empowerment and determination they had while they represented themselves in a permanent protection order hearing. I continue to learn to never underestimate survivors’ ability and I am always so humbled by walking that journey with them. 

What is your go-to form of self-care on a hard day? 
I love walking my newly adopted dog, hanging out with the family and hosting game night with friends where talking shop is off limits.

What is something you wish everyone knew about domestic violence? 
That DV is more than physical, and it is more emotional, financial, and psychological. Remembering also that society plays a larger role in the underlying causes of domestic violence. More light needs to be shone on how to prevent people from using abusive behaviors and coercive control. We need  to stop making it the survivors responsibility to stop the abusive situation.

Since our DVAM theme is “Heroes of DV” would you mind sharing who your hero is and why?
I have so many! Closer to my circle is my daughter, she is becoming (whether she knows or not) a great advocate in her own way. Every advocate, supervisor, and boss in this field that I have worked with, for better or worse, has taught me valuable advocacy skills, empowerment, humbleness, how to be a badass advocate (you all know who you are), and a better person overall. I can’t express how much gratitude I have for all of those that have helped pave that path. I also love Ruth Bader Ginsburg (may she rest in power).

Family Tree’s Legal Advocacy Program works with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to helps increase safety, provide civil and criminal legal advocacy, crisis intervention, and information and referrals.

Additionally, they offer court accompaniment to Jefferson County residents; however, all Metro Denver residents can attend the legal clinics that they offer for divorce, custody, and protection orders. To learn more about Family Tree’s Legal Advocacy Program, please visit their website at https://www.thefamilytree.org/legal-advocacy-program or give them a call at 303-271-6195.
 

The next two team members we are highlighting are with Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Outreach Program:

What is your first name and position?
Rachel, Director of the Domestic Violence Outreach Program.
Arianna, Bilingual Prevention and Advocacy Specialist.

How long have you been with Family Tree? 
Rachel: I have been with Family Tree for two years.
Arianna: I have been with Family Tree since November of 2019. 

How long have you been doing this kind of work?
Rachel: I have been in the field for about 15 years.

Arianna: I have been doing this work since I got my senior year capstone internship in college in 2017. I worked as a navigator at a family justice center in Portland, and I fell in love with the work and continued it all year, even after my semester long internship was over. I then moved to Denver and worked for 2 years at another local nonprofit in Denver as a bilingual family advocate, working with clients who came into shelter with kiddos. I have now been in this role for close to 2 years.

What draws you to this type of work? Why do you do it?
Rachel: Knowing that I can make a difference each and every day, small or big, individually or in the community. Just showing up can change someone’s life.

Arianna: I care very much about social justice, and when I started working in this field I felt that I was able to impact these issues and make a positive difference in individual lives for a living! As soon as I started working with survivors, I felt that something clicked. It feels intuitive to me, not to say that I haven’t had a lot of learning and unlearning to do, but I enjoy being in a field where I get to learn things that help me be a better human in life, not just in my work. I felt that same feeling of something just clicking for me when I started doing the Domestic Violence consultation work with Jefferson County. I love the freedom that I have in the role to expand ways that I support both caseworkers and clients. We are about to roll out a mandatory training for all caseworkers to increase DV proficiency in child welfare casework. For the past  decade of our partnership with them, we have offered only optional trainings. So this is a really new and exciting opportunity and I can barely believe I get to be a part of it!

Can you describe a significant moment or situation you’ve experienced in this work that has made an impact on you?
Rachel: Several things come to mind but the act was the same and in my mind it was a small act, but to the survivors it meant everything to them. One experience I will never forget was when I was working at a local shelter and Mother’s Day was coming up. I planned an event at the shelter that included a lunch, flowers, gifts, and I coordinated with a photographer who volunteered her time to take photos of the moms with their children. After the photo session, one mom came up to me crying and I asked if there was a problem or if there was anything I can do to help. The mom said no, I’ve never been in a photo with my kids. I’m always the one taking the photos and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I never forgot how that one small act in coordinating the event and getting a photographer made a difference in the life of one very happy mom. Since then, each time I support a client, I always keep in my mind Maya Angelou’s quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Arianna: I worked with a client when I worked at SafeHouse Denver who I had to emergency relocate due to her husband finding the location of shelter and trying to climb the fence. When I started in this new role at Family Tree, I got reconnected with the same client following her children being removed from her custody due to them witnessing a severe DV incident. I worked with her for months and saw her through the darkest of dark days, and one of the highlights of my career was the day that she got her children back. I still work with her now and her husband is in jail. I helped her to move past the guilt that she feels due to him getting in trouble, helped her formulate her victim impact statement to read in court, helped her enroll in the Address Confidentiality Program, and now I am able to check in with her with and kiddo’s voices are in the background. This is the rewarding part of direct service DV work and I feel very lucky to be able to support people through their darkest of dark days AND see them on the other side.

What is your go-to form of self-care on a hard day?
Rachel: Mashed potatoes and my fur baby.

Arianna: Red wine, a good TV show (or the trashiest TV shows), cuddling with my partner and my cats.

What is something you wish everyone knew about domestic violence?
Rachel: It is never the fault of the survivor of domestic violence no matter what they have done! 

Arianna: I wish that everyone talked about DV. 2/3 people have not talked about domestic violence with their friends or family, and I think that if being a survivor was more normalized, it would help break the stigma that creates shame in survivors and often stops them from getting support or even knowing support exists. I also wish that people knew that 70% of DV homicides happen when a survivor is trying to leave their relationship, and leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time for a survivor and their children. This is the statistic that I repeat the most because I think it is the most powerful answer to “why don’t they just leave?”

Since our DVAM theme is “Heroes of DV” would you mind sharing who your hero is and why?
Rachel: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my SUPERHERO! She worked her entire career to eliminate gender-based stereotyping in legislation and regulations. She made a difference and her work changed and impacted the livesof all women. 

Arianna: My hero is my grandma, Valarie Freed. She used to work with DV survivors, literally going into their homes and taking them to safehouses. There is one story that I remember my mom telling me about my grandma hiding with a survivor in her closet while her abusive husband threatened them from outside the closet with a gun. She also lost a child two weeks before my mom was born from disease called Tay-Sachs which is a genetic disease that impacts mainly Ashkenazi Jews. When my mom was a few years old, my grandma got pregnant again and by that time a test had been developed to check for Tay-Sachs in utero, and she found out that the baby she was carrying was going to have Tay-Sachs again. At that time (in the 60s in Kansas), abortion was legal only if the pregnancy was life threatening to the mother. My grandma had to go to two psychiatrists and tell them that if she had another baby with Tay-Sachs she was going to kill herself. She then had what my grandpa told me was the “first legal abortion in Kansas” (not sure if this is true but it’s a good line). She passed away a few years ago, but I hold her in my heart as a strong and radical feminist icon, and I know that she has impacted me and the work that I choose to do in countless ways.

Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Program works with survivors of domestic violence to provide individual advocacy, information about resources and assistance, and group support. Our Outreach team uses these services to help increase safety planning strategies, further understanding of abusive behaviors, and create opportunities for healing.

To learn more about Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Outreach Program, please visit their website at https://www.thefamilytree.org/domestic-violence-outreach-program or call them at 303-271-6140.


These next staff responses come from Family Tree’s confidential domestic violence shelter, Roots of Courage:
What is your first name and position? 
Rachael, Victim Advocate.
Yanitza, Bilingual Domestic Violence Advocate.

How long have you been with Family Tree? 
Rachael: I've been with family tree for a year and two months. I started as an intern August of 2020 and accepted a position April 2021; I was a weekend advocate for 2 months and then moved to a full-time position.

Yanitza: I joined Family Tree’s team in February of 2021, so a little over 8 months now.

How long have you been doing this kind of work?
Rachael: I've been doing this kind of work for a little over a year. 

Yanitza: I have been working in victim advocacy for a little over 2 years now. I started as a volunteer victim advocate through a police department.

What draws you to this type of work? Why do you do it? 
Rachael: I was drawn to this kind of work after realizing that my African culture does not take domestic violence seriously. I've witnessed people experience many forms of abuse throughout my life, and they were always asked to stay because of the children, or because they would rather stay in an abusive situation instead of being a single parent. Growing up, I did not see many resources available for people experiencing abuse in my community so I've always been passionate about doing this kind of work. 

Yanitza: I firmly believe that everyone deserves advocacy and support, as well as someone they can count on when they are going through the most traumatic time in their lives.

Can you describe a significant moment or situation you’ve experienced in this work that has made an impact on you? 
Rachael: At my work, I witnessed a man of my culture go through the program successfully and move into his own home. Knowing how my culture is all about toxic masculinity, I was happy that he reached out to get the help that he needed and took the steps to break out of the abuse that he was experiencing.

Yanitza: I enjoy providing those services and support to survivors and people in need. I like to make it known that they are not alone in the process and that we are here to better support them in whatever way we can. It’s a little cliché, but just providing support and services to survivors, especially monolingual ones, and how grateful they are every step of the way. Then later hearing how great they are doing and how healthy they are, thanking us endlessly when we were only there to give them a little push. Those are the things I define as a significant moment.

What is your go-to form of self-care on a hard day? 
Rachael: On a hard day, I like to go home and just watch a favorite show, movie, or something that involves comedy.

Yanitza: I have yet to find what sort of self-care is to me as they vary, I enjoy going on walks with my dog, baking, venting, and journaling.

What is something you wish everyone knew about domestic violence? 
Rachael: I wish everyone knew that it has nothing to do with what the victim did, abuse is abuse and the only person who needs to be blamed is the abuser. I also want people to take into consideration culture and how that can impact the decision of the survivor, so we shouldn't jump to conclusions or make the survivor feel bad when they are hesitant to take some steps to their independence. 

Yanitza: Something I wish people knew about domestic violence is that it is not just one form of it. People tend to automatically think that it is physical abuse, while not incorporating the other sorts of abuse as well. This shuts out survivors to reach out for help because they themselves sometimes don’t know what different forms of domestic violence is.

Since our DVAM theme is “Heroes of DV” would you mind sharing who your hero is and why?
Rachael: My Hero is my mother, she has been an inspiration and has made sacrifices for my siblings and I throughout the years. She was in an arranged marriage in her early 20s and experienced verbal, emotional, and financial abuse by my father, but ten years ago she decided to work on becoming independent and has been working on herself.  Since then, she has been free, happier, and a blessing to us. She has grown in every area of her life and I'm absolutely proud of her.

Yanitza: I would consider my mom my hero. Being a survivor of domestic violence herself, she has pushed hard to raise my siblings and I. Getting herself out of a situation without knowing the unknown of what was to come, but she did it for herself and for us. Working long days, raising my siblings and I on her own. She has pushed us and continues to push us to become the better versions of ourselves and firmly believing that we are capable of doing whatever we set our mind to, and along the way she is there fully supporting us. For that she will always be my hero.

Family Tree Roots of Courage (ROC) is a residential facility for survivors of domestic violence. The location of ROC is confidential to ensure the safety of the survivors and their children in this shelter. Advocates from ROC provide advocacy to residents by offering safety planning, connecting them with community resources, providing health care, and many other supportive services. ROC is open to survivors and their children from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders, and physical and mental abilities.

To learn more about Family Tree Roots of Courage, please visit their website at https://www.thefamilytree.org/domestic-violence-emergency-shelter or call their 24-hour DV crisis line at 303-420-6752.
 

Our final staff highlight providing their perspective is from Family Tree’s Parenting Time Program:
What is your first name and position?
Julieta, Bilingual Client Coordinator

How long have you been with Family Tree? 
I have been with Family Tree for about a year now.

How long have you been doing this kind of work?
I have been doing this type of work for about a year as well.

What draws you to this type of work? Why do you do it?
What draws me to do this type of work is the unity of families. I love watching different families with different experiences work together to make their families stronger. Doing this work helps me remember that we are all humans who make good and bad decisions that all have consequences. At the end of the day we are just people trying to make the best of life. I love to be able to support children in difficult situations and help make them feel safe.

Can you describe a significant moment or situation you’ve experienced in this work that has made an impact on you? 
At our program we have what is called the Safe Exchange program. This allows for both parents to be able to safely exchange kiddos. Safe exchanges serve for many reasons such as court order, domestic violence, and/or high conflict between two parents. During one Safe Exchange we had one parent arrive at the same time as the other parent which goes against our policy. There is a 15-minute different period that allows for one parent to pick-up and for the other parent to drop-of. As these two parents arrived at the same time the mother of this child was triggered by the presence of the father. This mother came in to the building panicking and crying. Keep in mind this is a domestic violence case. The mother of this child decided it would be best to call the police due to their protection order and as this was not the first time it had happened. 

This created a big impact on me because it reminded me of my role at the center. There is so much trauma that happens when someone experiences domestic violence and it is critical that as a team at the Karlis Center we provide a safe space for parents and kiddos.

What is your go-to form of self-care on a hard day? 
My go-to form of self-care on a hard day is to be alone and either watch something on Netflix or journal my feelings. There are some days where I just cry it out and get back up. The gym is a great form of self-care for me.

What is something you wish everyone knew about domestic violence? 
I wish people knew the trauma behind domestic violence. I wish people knew the way it changes individuals and the fear that it creates for these individuals. Domestic violence goes way beyond a single or multiple incidents. It is a life long journey.

Since our DVAM theme is “Heroes of DV” would you mind sharing who your hero is and why? My hero is my mother. She is a woman who has battled a lot in her life through her childhood, marriage life, and motherhood life. That woman has overcome so much and continues to wake up every day to do her best.

Family Tree’s Parenting Time Program aims to provide a safe place for children to visit with their non-residential parent(s), offering services such as supervised visits and safe exchanges. During supervised visits, trained personnel from the Parenting Time Program supervise contact between a child and the non-residential parent in a safe, neutral, and homelike environment. The Safe Exchange services provide a safe and comfortable place for children to wait for contact with the non-residential parent under the supervision of Parenting Time Program staff.

To learn more about Family Tree’s Parenting Time Program and how to apply, visit their website at https://www.thefamilytree.org/parenting-time-program or call them at 303-462-1060.