Grantees of programs providing outreach and services to underserved populations came together for the ALSO Underserved Institute in Chicago between October 9-11, 2018. This Institute, the first for the program, was hosted in partnership with the Office on Violence Against Women, which funded the program. The Institute convened 44 grantees from 25 organizations across 16 states.
The grant program reaches a diverse group of communities that serve underserved populations facing barriers in accessing and using victim services. Populations reached by the program are underserved because of geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and special needs (such as language barriers, disabilities, alienage status, or age). The program also serves underserved racial and ethnic populations.
While participants reach a wide range of communities, they shared common experiences related to their work at the Institute.
On Wednesday, October 10, participants gathered for sessions on conducting intakes, developing and keeping partnerships going and helping staff and volunteers deal with trauma. The day ended with an interactive session on asset-mapping of Institute training content areas.
“Survivor Contact: Strategies at Intake” - led by ALSO consultant Lisa Gilmore - explored the sensitive and critical challenge of understanding the needs and story of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. Participants shared their perspective on reasons for talking to survivors, including “to build trust,” get information, determine how to help and “hear what they need.” Gilmore also shared a resource from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center on conducting screenings or intake assessments. The document, Building Cultures of Care: A Guide for Sexual Assault Services Programs, provides information that strengthens organizational and individual responses to survivors of sexual violence through the use of a trauma-informed approach. The publication was created through a collaboration between the National Sexual Assault Coalition Resource Sharing Project and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Later that day, a peer panel on “Developing and Keeping Partnerships Going” focused on how to develop and maintain partnerships with other organizations including government entities related to their work to address sexual violence.
Panelists in this session talked about the importance of collaboration in many phases of their work - from sharing key elements of their work in regular meetings and communication with partners to being involved in the interview process designed to hired a new employee whose work will affect more than one organization.
“We need to be at the table with partners, and to ask questions,” said Cheryl Atwood, Executive Director of OPTIONS for Independence, a nonresidential Independent Living Center in Logan, Utah, where people with disabilities can learn skills to gain more control and independence over their lives. “We always have to be willing to learn from each other.”
Early that afternoon, Gilmore presented “Providing Services: Helping Staff & Volunteers Deal with Trauma,” a session that brought particular focus to support that is culturally and population relevant for the diverse group of grantees. The presentation identified six core principles of a trauma-informed organizational culture: safety, trust, choice, collaboration, empowerment, and cultural competence.
A TED Talks video on “The Neurons that Shaped Civilization” that was presented during this session helped establish the context for trauma-informed services. “The mirror neuron system underlies the interface, allowing you think about issues like consciousness, representation of self, what separates you from other human beings, what allows you to empathize with other human beings, but also even things like the emergence of culture and civilization, which is unique to human beings,” said Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neuroscientist the University of California, in the video.
The day’s sessions ended with a peer-to-peer learning opportunity on “Asset-Mapping of Institute Content Areas” related to outreach and services. In this session, grantees identified and mapped out a wide range of assets in their communities - including those related to health, housing, schools, faith, businesses, and more. Grantees created asset maps that were used the next day to support action planning activities. The maps revealed how resourceful grantees have been in accessing community-based resources that impact their work.
Participants at the Institute shared perspectives about their work, issues they face and learning from other Underserved recipients at the two-day event.
“What was most helpful was connecting with other programs that are also doing work with the deaf community,” said Wendie Abramson, Chief Quality Officer/Director of Deaf SHARE for The Safe Alliance in Austin, Texas. The group’s grant-funded work includes providing training and education to the general deaf community on domestic violence and sexual assault topics. “Connecting with other groups about what obstacles they are facing and hearing about their successes is very valuable,” Abramson said.
Liza Wolff-Francis, Executive Director/Clinical Director at Casa Fortaleza/Enlace Comunitario in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said that hearing what other programs are doing “gives you strength and ideas. (Enlace and Casa Fortaleza are separate organizations; Enlace incubated Casa Fortaleza, which provides therapy, support and education about sexual violence for Spanish-speaking survivors and Spanish-speaking communities in Central New Mexico).
“It’s hard doing this kind of work when there are so many institutional barriers,” she said. “In the future, it could be helpful for grantees to learn more about and explore ways that they can sustain their organizations. There’s such a need for what we do, and it’s often communities that continue to be marginalized that can take the lead,” she said.
Sameera Qureshi is Director of Sexuality Education and Training for HEART Women and Girls, which promotes sexual health and sexual violence awareness in Muslim communities through health education, advocacy, research, and training (HEART). Through the Underserved grant, HEART has been training Muslim students on these issues. "It’s always great to be around other grantees to hear that they have some of the same struggles. You are not alone.” Qureshi, who is based in Washington, D.C., said that HEART will “form collaborative partnerships with other organizations, and we will share tools and training with them. We have been asked how we help communities understand what sexual violence is - and how to respond with cultural sensitivity.” The organization has developed a “Power and Control Wheel” on sexual violence in Muslim communities that details how secrecy, shame, intimidation, and other tactics impact victims.
Meanwhile, Zeinab Eyega, Executive Director of Sauti Yetu Center for African Women in Bronx, New York, said that “building connections and alliances is an opportunity for us to develop a common language to address similar issues.” The Center’s work includes providing crisis intervention services to immigrant and refugee women from African countries and recruiting community members to be advocates. (The Underserved grant helps the organization fund a case manager and licensed clinical social worker). Eyega added that the Institute not only connected her to other grantees - but to a continuing conversation about how to build partnerships with “institutions in our city - partnerships that are mutually beneficial.”