KINGMAN - When Sheila King and County Attorney Bill Ekstrom first started the Sarah's House Child and Family Advocacy Center, their dream was to provide victims of trauma with a more personal, compassionate setting in which to give forensic interviews to police.
Eight years hence, the non-profit has aided thousands of people who have experienced the horrors of sexual abuse and domestic violence with getting the help they need, and jailing the people responsible.
But three weeks ago, the program came under a new executive director who hopes to take Sarah's House in a new, proactive direction. Ivy Minnie is a former caseworker for Child Protective Services, and she plans to refocus the advocacy center's efforts on getting at the root of abuse through a program of intervention, education and prevention.
"Kingman's growing, and as the community gets bigger, the problem gets bigger," Minnie said. "We don't just do sexual assaults and domestic violence and send them out the door. We want to make a difference."
Following King's departure as executive director last month, the board of directors made the decision to retool the non-profit toward helping victims avoid falling back into the trap of domestic abuse, as well as reaching out to other agencies to expand the number of services offered. Minnie said prior to the change in vision, it wasn't uncommon for victims to appear at the non-profit's administrative office multiple times, for fear of testifying against their abusers.
"I knew it was behaviors we had to change, it wasn't people," Minnie said. "Behavior is learned, and we need to change people's behavior to end the cycle of becoming victims."
For Minnie, the most important contributor to breaking someone out of the cycle of abuse is the need for consistent engagement, from the initial intervention onward.
It is for this reason, she said, that Sarah's House is currently seeking to hire a full-time professional counselor.
"If you don't engage a victim right away and keep them engaged as a counselor would, you lose them," she said. "They're going to go back (to the perpetrator), and they're not going to testify."
To put anyone, especially a child, in a position to be revictimized, Minnie said, is an entirely preventable tragedy, and comes purely from a lack of education and support. By offering information and assistance on how to get orders of protection, injunctions against harassment, court advocacy, referrals to other agencies and counseling, she hopes Sarah's House will be able to provide the support Kingman needs to ensure anybody who needs to break out of the cycle can do so.
But as a non-profit, Sarah's House is entirely at the mercy of the community. Fortunately, Kingman has been kind to the foundation in the past - the central crisis center at 1700 Airway Ave. was completed and fully furnished in 2007 thanks to donations from businesses and individuals in town.
Minnie's hope, going forward, is that the people who recognized the need for Sarah's House will recognize the non-profit's ongoing needs as well.
"We want these people to know we're making these changes, and we need their support," she said. "We want people to be concerned enough to want to be a part of it."
For more information, visit sarahs-house.com or call (928) 718-5522.