“We believe that no one deserves violence in a relationship,” are the bold words on the website of Sojourner House, an organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence and their children. Last year alone, they assisted more than 3,000 new clients.
Sojourner’s comprehensive services include a 24-hour helpline, the Providence Drop-In Advocacy Center, an emergency shelter, transitional housing, support groups, referrals, education around issues including teen dating violence and teen pregnancy prevention, and more. These services are provided by a staff of 15 – nine full-time and six part-time employees.
“We have a lot of volunteers and a very active board. It’s definitely a community effort,” says Vanessa Volz, executive director. Indeed, it was a community effort that founded Sojourner House in 1976 when Brown University students, alumni, faculty, and staff initiated a domestic violence hotline. The organization’s first shelter opened in the mid 1980s, and Sojourner has continued to increase its services through the decades.
“There’s still a lot of stigma around relationship violence. There’s still that shame,” Vanessa shares, adding, “Our clients all come to us having experienced some kind of trauma.”
Vanessa was hired to lead the organization in 2011 when, she says, the agency “was in transition.” With a new board and new staff, she says they’ve “turned the corner to where we now can be proactive and start strategic planning.”
Financial stability is at the center of Sojourner’s planning and this endowment is one component of that plan. “We want the agency to have a continuous source of revenue,” Vanessa acknowledges, adding that in the long-term she hopes this endowment will enable Sojourner to further expand its programming.
Sharing that one in four women in Rhode Island is a victim of domestic abuse and that more people are seeking services, she sees the need for services – and funding for those services – continuing to increase.
“I’m hoping that having this endowment at the Foundation will have a positive effect on our donors. The Foundation has a solid reputation, and donors can know their gifts are going directly to our services,” Vanessa explains.