When the call came in on the 24-hour crisis line at HAVEN of the Columbia River Gorge, safety was the first priority. Safety in the moment, and safety for the long term. We’ll call the woman on the other end of the phone Jane. She was – and is – a survivor of intimate partner violence.
“Jane was in a long-term relationship that was abusive in many ways,” remembers Tara Koch, Executive Director of HAVEN. “When she came into our office the next day, she showed us the welts on her skin. Alongside Jane, we helped create a safety plan that included a stay in a safe house apartment for a few weeks as we worked with her on a long-term plan.”
Even during her short stay, HAVEN staff members could see the differences in Jane’s physical health. Stress melted away as she was able to go for walks. In a safe environment as she learned about her options and rights, a new future started to come into focus for Jane – a future free of violence. Over a year later, that peaceful, empowered future has begun to unfold, and the staff at HAVEN couldn’t be happier. They are still in contact with Jane, though her story is one of many.
HAVEN, which stands for Help Against Violent Encounters Now, is a nonprofit advocacy established in 1981 dedicated to supporting victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, teen-dating violence and stalking. Based in The Dalles, Oregon, HAVEN advocates for a non-violent, non-oppressive society in Wasco, Sherman, Wheeler, and Gilliam counties.
Recently, we spoke with the entire staff to try to gain a full picture of how their mission is being achieved in the Columbia River Gorge. The first striking impression is that they live out their mission of nonviolence in the everyday ways they run their organization. For example, on the day we spoke to HAVEN, there were many voices at the table – quite literally. Tara made sure it wasn’t just her perspective that made it into this story, so she worked our interview into a staff meeting with everyone present.
“We exist to give survivors a voice and help them achieve safety of all kinds: social, emotional, physical,” says Becca Simmons, HAVEN’s Bilingual Engagement Coordinator. “We promote relationships that are free of aggression. So even within our office, we strive for shared decision-making that gives everyone a voice, and for policies and procedures that increase safety for everyone here, and build up our team.”
As HAVEN walks the walk internally, the benefits for survivors externally become even greater because of these practices. Another clear take-away is the thoughtfulness and breadth of HAVEN’s work, from direct service with survivors to community outreach, education, and advocacy that helps them uncover and prevent violence, protecting the most vulnerable members of the community.
For Jenna Cohan, HAVEN’s Bilingual Sexual Assault Advocate, the mission is enacted by both empowering survivors and also looking toward the deeper root causes. “My goal is to bring light to the barriers that keep survivors from getting the help they need, bring their voices to the table, and to dismantle the culture that leads to sexual violence,” she says as she shares about her work with the organization.
For Mercedes Hill, HAVEN’s Bilingual Health Advocate, the mission comes to life as she partners with health care providers, helping them build capacity in trauma-informed practices and be more prepared and proactive with their patients.
For Rebecca Bacon-Ehlers, HAVEN’s legal advocate, the mission advances when just one survivor understands her or his rights more deeply, and acts upon those rights to seek safety. But there is also the ongoing work of advocating policy change, creating effective curriculum, and connecting with new community partners who will understand and promote HAVEN’s principles of nonviolence and empowerment to their constituents.
Going around the table, it is clear that the strategies and tactics HAVEN puts to use in their work are making an impact throughout the region. The stories of positive outcomes for survivors – and hope for the future – are powerful proof of the organization’s work over the past four decades.
INB is proud to be a new community partner with HAVEN as we continue to establish connections in the Columbia River Gorge, part of the bank’s newly expanded territory. We invite you to learn with us, and to play whatever role you can in preventing and responding to domestic and relationship violence.