Advocates for Victims of Violence Youth Services Coordinator Colleen Murphy helps a client with paperwork. The Valdez-based program helps those fleeing physical, emotional and sexual abuse situations.
On any given day at Advocates for Victims of Violence (AVV), Rowena Palomar knows the services offered there could make a real difference in someone’s life. Some days this might be filing for a Protective Order, providing transportation for a job interview or accompanying somebody to a medical examination. Others, it is as impactful as providing someone a safe place to live after fleeing an abusive relationship. No two days are the same, she said – just as no two clients are the same.
“We are here to help anyone, said Palomar, AVV’s executive director. “We help those in Valdez, which has a population of about 4,000, but our coverage goes all the way to Glennallen and the Copper River area. We cover an area the size of Ohio.”
Advocates for Victims of Violence has been serving the community for 39 years, and Providence Health & Services Alaska supports the program with $25,000 in funding. In the past year, Palomar said AVV provided 343 referrals to other service agencies for resources, received 405 calls from someone in crisis and provided 452 shelter nights to 79 victims and survivors.
“That’s what we do for everybody who contacts us or walks in our door,” Palomar said. “Affordable Housing is always a huge problem here, and instead of sending someone back to their perpetrators, they stay longer at the shelter until an apartment unit becomes available.”
Colleen Murphy is AVV’s Youth Services Coordinator and she is often the voice on the other end of the crisis line. She said AVV generally receives at least one call a day, but sometimes it could be five different calls or a dozen calls with the same person.
“The very first thing we do is make sure they are safe and are able to talk safely,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure their very most basic needs are met, too – that they have food and they have a place to stay. Sometimes they just need to talk. That is OK, too.”
Valdez is a small community, Palomar points out, and everyone seems to know everyone. Murphy, for example, grew up in Valdez, went off to college for her degrees, and now is back home, working with people who were her role models growing up.
But with small communities there are also challenges.
“I think I understand the Valdez dynamic – people here are strong and independent, but I also grew up seeing the barriers and challenges,” Murphy said. “We are isolated, housing is difficult, it’s expensive. So having those perspectives I think helps a lot in my work.”
Also, Palomar added, because there is no public transportation, and getting in and out – whether by land, boat or plane – can be difficult at times, the shelter allows clients to “flee” without having to leave the community.
“Confidentiality is No. 1,” Palomar said. “Our clients need to be able to trust us, and they can.”
Helping those who are trying to get out of abusive relationships can be a stressful job, Palomar acknowledges. Her staff continually works to alleviate the fear and stress of physical, mental and emotional violence and for people who have been victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault. While taxing, both Palomar and Murphy said, just knowing that AVV’s services are making the community a better place to live is reward enough.
Palomar recently received a letter from a client that she reads often as a positive reminder of why AVV is so critical in the community.
“We had to utilize shelter services at AVV when we were fleeing from my stalker,” wrote the client. “Our family dynamic is a bit different and AVV accommodated us. AVV did not care that we were part of the LGBTQ community. They did not see the stereotype/title; they saw humans needing help!”
“I think the best part of this letter was the part when they said the staff looked at them as humans in need of help,” Palomar said. “That’s what we do to everybody; we want them to feel safe.”
Palomar said AVV’s work is done in cooperation with other agencies in the Valdez and Copper River area. She works closely with the Valdez Police Department, Providence Valdez Counseling Center, Providence Valdez Medical Center, Alaska Housing Corp. and more.
“They are all very important players in making the work we do possible,” she added.
Murphy said it’s that community focus – and its partnerships with those agencies – that make her proud to represent AVV. “Growing up here having such strong ties to the community is important,” she said. “We genuinely care about the people we serve.”