On June 11, there were eight adults, six children and two dogs in The Advocates’ shelter in Hailey, which offers a high level of safety and support to people who have recently left an unsafe environment. In transitional housing, there were four adults and seven children. The nonprofit’s CEO, Tricia Swartling, says there are a lot more people on the waiting list for housing, and she’s determined to fill that need with a new facility being built on River Street that will provide more housing options for victims of domestic abuse in the community.
“We’re fortunate to be able to do this project and continue supporting the community,” Swartling said during an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express on May 30.
Last month, Swartling was named one of the nine best CEOs in the state by Idaho Business Review. Nominated by Idaho Nonprofit Center CEO and President Amy Little, Swartling said the award was a big honor and she aims to use the publicity to highlight some of the other resources and services that The Advocates provides.
Swartling made it clear that The Advocates is a nonjudgmental organization that simply aims to provide resources and support for those who ask for it.
“We don’t tell people what they need, we tell them what’s available,” she said.
Since she became CEO in 1995, she has helped raise $22 million for the nonprofit, growing and evolving the organization based on community needs, including adding resources for financial education, legal services and teaching teens and adults how to prevent potentially violent situations.
According to The Advocates, many cases of domestic violence include elements of financial abuse, so economic challenges are common. The organization’s Smart About Money Economic Empowerment program provides survivors of domestic violence the opportunity to learn how to balance a checkbook, create a budget and understand credit reports. The Advocates also can help open a savings account for long- and short-term goals, with the nonprofit offering a 1-to-1 match for all savings. Swartling said The Advocates is managing about 75 accounts, with several hundreds of thousands of dollars saved.
The Advocates also offers a free 11-week class series on overcoming professional and personal roadblocks to eventually gain confidence and build a career. According to the organization, 89 percent of participants of the Skills for Success Employment Program complete it and obtain higher-paying jobs and report more overall confidence.
Just as important as providing resources to survivors of domestic abuse is educating the community on creating an environment free from bullying and abuse. The Green Dot Bystander Intervention program is a nationwide effort to inform people about sexual assault and domestic violence. The method teaches students and community members to intervene using the three D’s: direct, delegating responsibility to others and creating a distraction to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.
“Empowered with safe, effective ways to intervene, bystanders use Green Dot’s program to [elicit] conversations and actions conveying that violence is not the answer; furthermore, that everyone is expected to do their part in helping keep their community safe,” the Green Dot 208 website states. “Everyone has the power to create change. Through uniting in the common cause of violence prevention, we can create a positive,
effective culture shift.”
Other prevention and education programs include the “staying safe at home” program, which works with children to teach them the differences between arguing and fighting, that it’s never their fault when adults are fighting and to never get in the middle, and to identify a safe adult whom they can tell about what happened. The Advocates also teaches bullying prevention in schools to encourage respect and compassion in relationships among classmates. The program teaches simple strategies that students can use to stop bullying when they see it and then reinforce the education element with skits designed by the students to practice those techniques.
“This practice cements their learning and gives them the chance to find an intervention style that works for them,” The Advocates’ website states.
The nonprofit also offers a healthy relationships program for middle school students to explore concepts such as trust, communication and safety in the context of relationships with their parents, teachers, coaches and friends. Furthermore, the program educates on dating relationships, teen dating abuse, changing harmful social norms and abuse of social media. There are also workshops on consent, warning signs of abuse, healthy boundaries and safe online practices.
Swartling said fundraising to maintain those services and to create new resources for the community is always a challenge.
“Fundraising is one of those things that you can never stop, because if you do, you’re behind,” she said.
Currently, The Advocates is about $1.4 million short of its $5.5 million goal to complete the project to add more shelter options, but Swartling is optimistic that the community will rally around it. The $3.7 million already raised will fully fund completion of a three-story safe housing transitional apartment building with 18 apartments. The remaining funds will go toward an additional six-unit apartment building and a contingency fund for unexpected project costs. Any leftover funds will be put toward The Advocates’ endowment fund.
“This is an important and transformative project that will interrupt the cycle of violence for families in our community for generations,” The Advocates’ website states.
Swartling said, “The people who need us know about us,” but she adds that there’s more than can done to educate the public and reduce the stigma around abuse, particularly victim blaming, and not understanding why people stay in abusive situations or think they want it.
Swartling plans to continue her work to fight those misconceptions and to help raise people’s awareness not just to physical abuse but to emotional and financial abuse as well.