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Feb 13, 2014 | Insights

Safe Havens

Views of the Staff of Safe Havens 

In this article, Jennetta Hyatt interviews staff of Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence about working in the nonprofit sector. Safe Havens is fiscally sponsored by TSNE. Staff members of Fiscal Sponsorship projects are legal employees of TSNE, which provides the projects with human resources support and an employee benefits package.

Safe Havens is a national interfaith organization dedicated to strengthening the capacity of faith communities to engage in a coordinated effort to end domestic violence. Hyatt met with (clockwise, right) The Reverend Dr. Anne Marie Hunter, founding executive director of Safe Havens; Alyson Morse Katzman, director of the Family Violence Prevention Project; and Reverend Traci Jackson Antoine, program coordinator.

Jennetta Hyatt, TSNE: Can you tell me how Safe Havens was formed?

Origins of Safe Havens

Rev. Hunter: In 1984, I was attending seminary and working at Harbor Me, which was a domestic violence service provider in East Boston. A lot of women who came for services talked about their faith and understood their experience of domestic violence through their faith.

They said things like “this is just my cross to bear.” One woman said, “I told my priest about the abuse 27 years ago, and he told me to pray harder. Now I’ve got calluses on my knees and he still beats me.” 

Another woman commented, “I turned the other cheek, and turned the other cheek, until I ran out of faces.”

It was remarkable to me how many women had “run out of faces.” I began to ask myself, Where is the faith community on this issue? I founded Safe Havens in 1991 for all the women who have “run out of faces” and need to be able to turn to their faith communities for help and find a real safe haven of information and resources about domestic violence.

I believe that the faith community has an important role to play in stopping domestic violence.

Faith Communities and Domestic Violence

TSNE: Anne Marie, what about some of the challenges you have faced over the years as an executive director? Certainly, the challenges that you face differ now from when you first began Safe Havens. What are some of these differences?

Rev. Hunter: In the beginning, when I told people what I was doing, they would ask what faith had to do with domestic violence. People had no idea.

So, it was a struggle to convince people that domestic violence was even happening. And if they believed that domestic violence happened, they thought that it only happened in some other parish, some other faith, some other community. 

They believed that domestic violence never happened to people in their faith, their pews, their community, their family. There was a lot of racism and classism involved in where people thought domestic violence was happening. We had to get through this barrier and convince people of faith that domestic violence affects people even in our own congregations and communities. 

When we started doing trainings with groups of congregations, we deliberately brought together many denominations, faiths, different races, different classes, everything from an orthodox synagogue to storefront urban evangelical churches. We really wanted to say to the faith community, “This problem involves all of us.”

Expanding Services

TSNE: Alyson, you’ve been with Safe Havens for some time now. Can you describe your specific role at Safe Havens, and as a veteran staff person, can you describe the services that Safe Havens provides?

Ms. Morse Katzman:  As director of the Family Violence Prevention Project, I provide outreach and training in many different settings. When I first started, most of our work was with congregations. We did outreach and education, speaking engagements, community vigils and the Family Violence Prevention Project (FVPP). The Family Violence Prevention Project is a 22-hour training program that trains lay and clergy leaders from many congregations together.

We have expanded since those days. Now, we have a national program that provides technical assistance to 15 Family Justice Centers all across the United States. We also have a Manna in the Wilderness Project, which brings a condensed version of our longer training to many congregations and settings.

We spend a lot of time building relationships with service providers, with congregations, and with community organizations like the Haitian Domestic Violence Roundtable, the Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition, the Black Ministerial Alliance or the TenPoint Coalition. We work with these organizations because we believe strongly in a community-based response to domestic violence. 

To build that community, we all need to work together. Obviously, our focus is to educate the faith community. But the faith community needs to refer to strong community partners, like police, courts, battered women’s service providers, healthcare providers, batterers’ intervention specialists and child witness to violence advocates.

Educating the faith community means working with these organizations. Increasingly, we also find ourselves providing technical assistance to service providers who are reaching out to the faith communities in their neighborhoods.

Work and Home: Finding a Balance

TSNE:  Can one of you speak to the philosophy or the culture of Safe Havens?

Rev. Traci Jackson Antoine: We are probably not atypical of nonprofits, because, although we all have very specific roles, we certainly pitch in wherever it is needed. I think that’s part of the culture of most nonprofit organizations.

What makes us exceptional is that we are a very family-friendly organization. We believe 100 percent that the work we do is very important. We also believe that our families are equally as important, and because of that there’s not the usual tug of war that a lot of people feel in the workplace between their home life and work.

I don’t feel like I have to separate the two. I don’t have to put all of my energy and the best of me in what is happening here at work, and then when I get home, my family gets whatever is left over.

You work, work, work, and then when you go home, your family gets what you have left over. At work you’re pleasant, accommodating and nice, and at home you are short with everyone, frustrated and tired. At work life is great, so you have a good career but a horrible marriage and your children are unhappy.

Instead, there’s a wonderful balance here at Safe Havens. My family matters here. We check in with each other on the various aspects of our lives. I think that this is what makes our culture unique. 

I think the working relationship that we have among the three of us is also unique. I think it’s very hard to find a job where you look forward to going to work every day. It’s hard to find a job where you look forward to being with the people that you work with. My mother called me here at work yesterday and said, “Oh it’s so quiet there, are you there by yourself?” And I said to my mom, “Oh no, my girls are here today.”

They are “my girls,” and I love working with them. When I’m talking to my family at the dinner table and I talk about Hunter, my family knows that Hunter belongs to Anne Marie and, if I talk about Isabel, they know that Isabelle belongs to Alyson. Our relationship … it’s a good thing. 

Rev. Hunter: Ending domestic violence is a marathon and not a sprint. We’re not, any of us, going to end domestic violence soon. I’ve seen a lot of people come into this field and burn themselves out. I really don’t want to see this happen because I feel that people are going t o still be needed to advocate against domestic violence years from now.   

This is hard work. It really helps to have a certain spiritual rootedness. The image that comes to my mind is the scripture about the tree that is planted by the stream. The tree is strong and healthy because it has deep roots in the nourishing stream. That’s what you need to do this work. I think that balance between home and work and between play and work, all those need to be in place. Years from now, we won’t still be here doing this work, either as individuals or as an agency, if we don’t know how to balance and pace ourselves. 

Opportunities for Job Growth

TSNE: Traci you’ve been promoted recently. Can you talk about your new role and responsibilities as program coordinator? 

Rev. Jackson Antoine: I was hired here almost two years ago in the role of office manager. Since my background is in human resources, I had the advantage of being on both sides of the fence. I’ve been the interviewer, as well as the person being interviewed.

I was able to ask the kind of questions that gave me a really clear picture of the organization, and what opportunities might be presented to me in the future. I was transitioning from being a stay-at-home mom with my daughter and had done a lot of volunteer work and various jobs. 

If I was going to back into the workforce in terms of a career, I really wanted to be in an environment where I could make a difference. And so, going into my interview at Safe Havens, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I was most interested in training and outreach, and I was told the opportunities are endless. And they were right; the opportunities for me have been endless.

My breakthrough came when we received a phone call from a local church group that asked us to send someone out to talk to their women’s group about domestic violence. I was really excited about the opportunity and began talking to Anne Marie about the possibility of doing this training. At this point, I had been to several trainings but had not yet had the opportunity to do it on my own.
I discussed it at length with Anne Marie, and we began to prepare. I didn’t get any sleep the night before, because I was so afraid that I would forget something important. The group had two speakers scheduled that day, and when the second speaker didn’t show up, I was asked if I could stay. I carried the entire day-long program by myself. It was phenomenal. And the women’s group was really engaged, and they loved it.

TSNE: Traci, it seems like you are really starting to develop yourself in the field of domestic violence.  

Rev. Jackson Antoine: Absolutely. A lot of invaluable opportunities have been presented to me since my promotion to program coordinator last year. I represent Safe Havens at AFAB (The Haitian Women’s Domestic Violence Roundtable), The Black Ministerial Alliance and the TenPoint Coalition. I recently completed certified trainings with EMERGE: Batterers’ Intervention Services and with Jane Doe Inc. I serve on the Ministerial Council at Greater Faith Worship Center in Hyde Park, Mass., where I was ordained on April 15. In addition, I’m enrolled in a graduate Family Violence course at Boston University School of Public Health.

Rev. Hunter: The more Safe Havens staff members accomplish, the stronger Safe Havens is. This is good for Safe Havens.

Appreciating Staff Diversity

Rev. Hunter: The Safe Havens staff represents the Jewish tradition and two different branches of the Christian tradition. We also include both clergy and laity, which is really important. 

Victims don’t always want to go to their clergy to talk about domestic violence. It can be really scary to talk to the clergy.  Or, perhaps the clergyperson is not sympathetic. 

Because a victim may turn to anyone in their faith community for help, it’s important that Safe Havens trains lay leaders as well as clergy leaders. That’s why it’s so important that the Safe Havens staff include a lay voice as well as clergy voices. I think this is absolutely crucial.

Building Relationships with Other Nonprofits

TSNE: How can others help your organizations?

Rev. Hunter: We are always looking for donations. Last year, we lost a significant chunk of state funding and at the same time our federal grant is coming to an end. So we all have this sense that we are walking toward a funding cliff. We’ve been working hard to figure out how we are going to bridge that gap. 

Also, you can help us contact new faith communities! If someone who reads this knows this is an issue their faith community needs to address, then I hope that they will call us so that we can work with them. 

And you can introduce Safe Havens to key people in the community. A lot of our work in the community is building relationships, and the best way to build strong relationships is to be personally introduced. These relationships are particularly fruitful.

We also need a volunteer with good desktop publishing skills to help us with our newsletter. We are able to put together the content (although a volunteer to nudge us along would also be a good idea), but we need someone who can format the newsletter, finish it up and send it out.

Ms. Morse Katzman: Also, we would love it if someone could donate a digital camera. We could put pictures in our newsletter and on the website that we are developing. And, if someone had the technology know how to assist us with this or provide some support to us around this, we would love it.