As many of you know, we spend a lot of time learning about Napa County's nonprofit sector--we conduct more than 200 site visits a year with agencies and programs to hear what they are doing, how they are doing it and what their needs are.
One of our favorite parts of those conversations is getting to know the leaders of local organizations. For instance, hearing about how they landed in the nonprofit sector, what they want the community to know about their work, and why they stick with it. So, we've decided to share highlights of those conversations with you, from time to time, in this newsletter.
We recently talked with Tracy Lamb, who is Executive Director for Napa Emergency Women's Services (NEWS).
A group of community members formed NEWS in 1981, after realizing Napa County didn't have a safe place for women and children to go when fleeing domestic violence and abuse at home. Today, NEWS helps 1,300 women and children a year and has 9 different programs, including: outreach and education; domestic violence shelter for women and their children fleeing abuse; mental health counseling; services to change patterns of substance abuse or dependence; sexual assault victim support and rape crisis center; and, economic self-sufficiency planning and housing placement. NEWS's annual operating budget is $1.3 million and the nonprofit has 20 staff; currently, there are 13 board members.
Tracy joined NEWS as Executive Director about 10 years ago. Prior to joining NEWS, she was Director of Victim Services for the District Attorney's office of Sonoma County. Tracy has a bachelor's degree in social work from Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo).
NVCF: NEWS has been around a long time, and is well known in the community, but in the last few years has expanded its services quite a bit. What's the organization's current elevator pitch?
Tracy: NEWS is here to support people who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Our work is about helping people not be victims and, instead, becoming thrivers and survivors. Our work is grounded in the belief that people can change: Bad things can happen, but that doesn't define who a person is. We believe that we can work with our clients to take something bad that happened, and we can help them grow and become whole.
NVCF: Working on domestic violence is some of the most challenging work out there. How did you get started in this area of the nonprofit sector?
Tracy: Looking back 30 years, I was definitely on a path. When I started college I wanted to do something meaningful and had an interest in working with women. I got my degree in social work and started volunteering at a victim services organization.
I saw so much possibility for change and creating safety in the lives of women--for many of them safety that they never thought possible. And, I could see the change happening quickly: Seeing women in crisis make some changes and some decisions that led to them feeling--and being--so empowered and hopeful for their lives.
Seeing these amazing shifts hooked me from the beginning. And it still does--this work is a labor of love for me. Since those early days, I have led three organizations in this sector: one focusing on victim witness, another on rape crisis, and now domestic violence.
NVCF: What's the biggest change you've seen in NEWS's client base since you became ED?
Tracy: When I first started at NEWS we were looking at domestic violence rather narrowly, I'd say. Women would come in and we'd focus on the abuse: for example, how long it went on, and were they ready to leave.
Since then, we've really broadened the way we look at the issue and work with clients. Most of our clients have had a lifetime of trauma and are dealing with a host of additional issues--whether it's substance abuse or mental health, etc. And they bring all of these experiences as a whole person to us, so now we work with the person and all their experiences, not just the abuse piece.
As a result, we have been much more welcoming to clients in need. For example, a client might come in that is having difficulty in their relationship--maybe around finances, or some troubling emotional turmoil. It might feel somewhat abusive to them, but they're not sure, and they come to our door for support. Then, when NEWS staff starts working with them we learn that as a child there was abuse in their family. And as we learn more we realize we have services that will give them options, and that we will support them through the process.
That's what this work is about--empowering people to know they have options and can make healthy choices about their lives.
NVCF: People often think of NEWS as the organization that runs the shelter, but NEWS has a variety of programs and wrap-around services for women in crisis. What do you want our readers to know about some of your organization's non-shelter services?
Tracy: We are doing a lot of prevention work, and providing healthy relationships workshops to students at a lot of the middle and high schools. Assistance with protective orders is another service we offer, and one that a lot of clients want. Protective orders provide immediate safety to clients that are certain they want to be safe now, but aren't sure if they want to enter the shelter or want to file a police report. We also offer support around transitioning to other housing and planning for financial self-sufficiency, because the underlying fear for women that want to flee abuse is: How will I support myself and my children to live independently of the abuser?
NVCF: You mentioned some of the prevention work NEWS does with kids in schools. Are there other services NEWS provides that focus on children?
Tracy: We have a lot of new services for children who've been exposed to domestic violence. Today, our organization views children as direct victims of domestic violence rather than kids who come into the office with their moms. We look at the kids as individuals, how has this situation affected them, and how can we prevent long-term negative impacts of what they've been through.
We offer to develop support plans for each child that walks in our doors, based upon their unique circumstances. We also have support groups just for children, where they spend time in a safe place with other kids and talk with each other about how their week or their day was, and how they are feeling. They also have fun together, like go on nature hikes or do art projects. We also do some safety planning in those groups so kids are prepared and know what to do in a situation where they don't feel safe, and that can be very healing.
NVCF: NEWS was a key partner to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund in distributing disaster relief aid to earthquake victims. What did your organization learn from that experience? [Editor's note: NEWS distributed $750,000 in relief assistance to more than 2,000 earthquake victims.]
Tracy: We learned that our skills (in crisis and trauma response, and other areas) can be a great asset to the community. That our team is flexible, and is able to identify needs, see where those needs align with staff skills and strengths, and then implement. And, we can do all of that quickly.
NEWS's expertise in working with people in crisis was a strong match with the kinds of trauma we were seeing among earthquake victims. A lot of times when people have experienced trauma they have trouble communicating, or they are sleep deprived. Whatever their "normal" was before the trauma is no longer their "normal."
This is similar with domestic violence victims, who also often feel on edge, hypervigilant, fearful. Our skill in crisis is to listen and reflect back to people in a very respectful way, which helps the clients recognize what they actually need and want, and then together we can develop concrete steps for them to move forward with their lives.
Working on the Napa Earthquake also strengthened our sense of teamwork, and really affirmed for us how much we are capable of as an agency, and the power of the work we do with clients. In crisis there is always opportunity, and in that particular crisis it was an opportunity for NEWS to become an even stronger team.