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Volunteers are the Heart of Seekhaven
- a Community Safety Net

By Carrie Switzer

Domestic violence: We always assume it’s happening to someone else.

These are words spoken by a woman who helped open a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Moab 13 years ago, and for several years served as Victim Advocate for the Grand County Counsel’s office. Now, Stephanie Dahlstrom is back at the helm of Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center. Appearing unflappable, Stephanie deals with an underbelly of society that permeates the rich, the poor and the hippest of hip. It manifests as uncontrolled anger and an obsession for power on the one hand, and shame, alienation and a perceived, if not real, powerlessness on the other.

“If your self esteem is demeaned, if you don’t feel safe or you don’t feel heard, there are some red flags there,” Stephanie says to those who, while engaged in a harmful relationship, may not even recognize it.

“Everyone has arguments, and sometimes heated ones,” she adds, “but when words are spoken that mean to damage the soul, that is a red flag.”

The legal system takes domestic violence charges seriously, particularly if children witness violence in the home. But there is usually a long road of abuse leading to intervention, and according to national statistics, violent relationships do not change without outside intervention.

Moab is right up there with the national average as far as the rate of domestic violence goes. Last year Seekhaven served 369 people, nearly all of them women, through the shelter, outreach programs and the crisis line. Services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and include legal advocacy, support groups, counseling and therapeutic day care for children. A staff of nine full and part-time employees, and a handful of volunteers run the center, under the direction of a nine-member board of directions and a 10-person advisory board. It operates on a budget of $250,000-$300,000, garnered from several grants, including United Way and $5,000 each from Grand County and the City of Moab. Seekhaven’s largest fundraiser is Puttin’ on the Ritz, a dinner and dance held every February, and in-kind donations from the community makes up the rest.

“We have a diverse group of experts to help us,” Stephanie says.

Every Monday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. there is a support group offering education, testimonials and speakers, with child care provided free of charge. These classes follow a curriculum that also includes alternative healing practices, meditation, life skills and emotional processing. The Resource Center, a comfortable and spacious room with several reference books and computers available for client use at no charge, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. A counselor is on-duty 24/7 to answer phones and meet with anyone in need, and Utah Legal Services sends a representative to Seekhaven every month to help with legal issues. Some of the most important work done at Seekhaven is the sharing that happens between someone in trouble and someone else whom has been there and gotten out. More often than not that is the person who can get the ball rolling for a newcomer.

Stephanie says that even after years of public awareness about domestic violence, there is still a stigma attached to it, and a lack of understanding, that makes it difficult for many people to recognize their options and break away from cycles of physical, psychological or sexual abuse. She points out that emotional abuse, in particular, is hard to recognize, and even harder to heal. One of the reasons is common: Victims of battering may start to believe the abuse is their fault.

“I ask people, ‘How do you feel when he says that to you?’ Often, a woman feels guilty and ashamed, as if she asked for it.”

Perhaps surprisingly, many of the reasons women years ago stayed in abusive relationships still exist today, even with the heightened sensitivity to the issue by law enforcement and society in general.

“A large percentage of women who come to the shelter go back to abusive homes,” Stephanie said. “They face a bleak future financially and they feel too beaten down to do it. Often they are isolated; ties from family and friends are cut off.”

In an effort to overcome the stigma attached to domestic violence, the Grand County Domestic Violence Coalition is host to events each year during the month of October designed to educate the local community. Usually these are high-profile events, including presentations by authors, music events and public gatherings. This year the Coalition will focus on programs involving young people, particularly middle school-age kids.

“For the last few years the Coalition has focused on adults,” she said. “We all realize that school kids are our future in breaking the cycle.”

The Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) kicks off in Moab with a conference on Oct. 3rd geared for middle school students with motivational speaker Mary Chris Martin and dance following with local disc jockey Jason Parriott and the dance and drill team. Other activities will be held throughout the month.

Seekhaven also seeks volunteers throughout the year to help answer phones, spruce up the grounds and Resource Center and help sort through donated items for distribution to those in need. Anyone interested in volunteering, donating goods and services or obtaining more information about the services offered by Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource center may call 259-2229. Volunteers will be trained and will help “keep a valuable community service alive.”

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