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Hope and Healing: Rape & Abuse Crisis Center Fargo-Moorhead

Rape & Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead

For the Rape & Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead, winning the inaugural People’s Choice Award at the 2015 ChamberChoice Awards Luncheon validated the community’s support for the organization.

“We’re honored and humbled by the award,” said Executive Director Christopher Johnson. “The community’s investment in the Rape & Abuse Crisis Center is key to our success, and we wouldn’t be here without the support of businesses.”

Johnson said it took a few days for the realization of what winning the award really meant; the small nonprofit, which employs just 23 FTEs, competed for the award against the 56 other businesses in the community that had been nominated for ChamberChoice awards.

Director of Development Kara Odegaard echoed Johnson’s statement that winning was an incredible honor for the organization, pointing out an even more important result.

“Victims already have a hard enough time coming through our door, and winning the award made it that much easier because the Rape & Abuse Crisis Center became more mainstream,” she explained. “That is priceless; you can’t quantify that.”

What the center can quantify is the number of clients it serves directly – 3,000; 500 of those clients are children, half of which have experienced sexual abuse.

To help these clients begin the healing process, the center operates within three primary programs: advocacy, clinical counseling and prevention and education.

The advocacy program is truly the first line of defense; when a client walks through the doors, advocates are on hand to immediately determine how that client’s basic needs can be met in a safe environment.

The center works closely with its partners in law enforcement and human services to ensure a client’s needs are being met regardless of the environment in which they find themselves in.

The clinical counseling program at the center typically involves longer-term therapy that clients need to deal with recent trauma or trauma that may have been repressed and has now resurfaced, while the prevention and education program takes a broader perspective on how to educate the community about domestic violence and ways to end it.

The dynamics of interpersonal violence are fueled by societal norms, Johnson said, so it is important to engage the community in conversations about those norms. Take the NFL and its domestic violence awareness campaign; people are now talking about stereotypes regarding domestic violence as a way to change the perception about them, he explained.

Another important conversation the center wants to engage in is how organizations can contribute to domestic and sexual violence prevention. Johnson said the center offers businesses educational tools and resources as well as assistance drafting domestic violence policies.

Odegaard pointed out that so many businesses are taking action to improve the health and wellness of their employees, and feeling safe is an enormous aspect of wellness.

“We want to be a resource before (a tragedy) happens,” she said. “Because domestic and sexual violence are so widespread, it’s almost impossible that businesses of any size will not encounter it in some way. I think most businesses would be surprised by the impact it has on employee wellness and organization productivity.”

Employee wellness is also crucial to the center and its employees; the nature of the work is serious, heavy and deep. That can weigh on even the most seasoned professional, emerging in the form of vicarious trauma.

As executive director, Johnson works to ensure employees have strong relationships with their supervisors to help process emotions that result from case work. Employees are encouraged to have fun at the office, despite the dark nature of the work, and time away from the office is vital.

Johnson also pointed out that nearly half of the staff has advanced degrees, which equips them with a toolbox for dealing with the work in a healthy way.

One tool the employees have is also the simplest: hope. “When you see lives being rebuilt before your very eyes, it’s so inspiring,” Odegaard said. “We see the incredible strength of spirit these people have; that’s the reason we can commit our life’s work to this.”

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