Interview with Laurel Lynch, Executive Director of HOPE Family Services
We are starting this series with an interview with Laurel Lynch, Executive Director of HOPE Family Services. With media’s attention focused on the long-standing epidemic of domestic violence and abuse, community awareness of HOPE’s mission continues to grow. Laurel’s answers to the following questions illustrate why she is passionate about the work of HOPE and the critically needed services they provide to families who are victims’ domestic violence. Services that are conducive to healing mind, body and soul.
- Question: What would you like our LWRWC members to know about HOPE Family Services and your role as Executive Director?
Laurel’s Answer: Domestic violence is an epidemic both nationally and right here in our community. HOPE Family Services (HOPE) has been answering the call for those whose lives have been affected by intimate partner violence since 1979 and became a full-fledge charitable organization in 1980. I’ve been at HOPE for 20 years and have had the honor of leading an incredibly dedicated and talented team of staff, Board members and volunteers to a position that HOPE is considered a ‘blue ribbon’ program offering victims and survivors of domestic violence exemplary services. In addition to Emergency Safe Shelter, Advocacy, counseling and children’s services, we offer specialized programs including an outreach program for Spanish speaking and survivors who may be isolated as they are a part of Manatee County’s farm working community. Finally, one of our most important collaborations, partnering with the Women’s Resource Center to offer a class called, Evaluating Unhealthy Relationships. Thanks to this partnership we reach even more women in the community who need help. In essence, HOPE is so much more than just a shelter.
- Question: LWRWC members have expressed interest in becoming more involved in hands-on volunteer opportunities with our adopted 501(c)(3) charities. Please tell us about the types of volunteer work opportunities that are available at HOPE and who are members should contact if they are interested in volunteering.
Laurel’s Answer: HOPE Family Services’ loves their volunteers! We simply couldn’t carry out our mission without them. The State requires volunteers who want to offer direct services to clients successfully complete a 24 hour class and receive 6 hours on the job training. HOPE offers this training called Core Competency, twice a year. This allows folks to actually meet with clients and spearhead projects like story time with the children, cooking classes at the shelter, co-facilitating support groups, etc. For those who would rather jump right in, we have opportunities for help with data entry, grocery shopping, and the ever-important, HOPE Chest Thrift Store. Also, and in an effort to not limit opportunities, I’d love to have a conversation with someone who may have ideas of their own. Some of our best volunteer activities have come from volunteers themselves. So, my question to you is … how can you help — what do you like to do?
- Question: What inspired you to embrace such a challenging leadership position? What were your expectations when you joined HOPE and were they fulfilled?
Laurel’s Answer: I’ve been working in the field of services to victims and survivors of domestic violence for 31 years. From volunteering 32 years ago to becoming an advocate, I was continuously moving up in the movement and a leadership position just seemed a natural progression. Over the past 20 years as the leader of HOPE, I’ve come to realize I have the right temperament for the position. I also have a knack for balancing the money and the mission. I’ve seen so many dedication and passionate advocates move into a leadership positions and flounder because the business side of providing services was not something they understood. Conversely, having strong business acumen without the necessary passion for providing services for those affected by domestic violence doesn’t serve an organization well either.
When I started at HOPE, I just wanted to offer quality services in an empowerment based model for those in Manatee County who needed HOPE’s help. The last 20 years has exceeded my expectations. I am humbled and proud by the work of my colleagues and the support of our community.
- Question: What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishments as Executive Director?
Laurel’s Answer: The most significant accomplishment was successfully building a new facility 7 years ago. If you recall, the economy was just starting to plummet right around the time we were breaking ground and a couple of the strategies in the business plan fell by the wayside. But, we did it! I cannot believe I’m saying this but even now, only 7 years later, we are out of room! We also are very proud of launching the Farmworker Outreach Program 4 years ago. I cannot imagine being trapped by things like a language barrier, living in a rural area, having absolutely no support systems and documentation problems. Our dedicated bilingual and bi-cultural staff members have made a difference in countless lives.
- Question: What was your most difficult challenge in 2016?
Laurel’s Answer: The most difficult challenge of 2016 was meeting the increased demand for services while the funding sources remain level or worse yet, decrease. We managed to meet the demand by continuing to focus on being efficient and not wasting valuable resources. We also trained more volunteers to ensure we had enough hands on deck. An ongoing challenge is to continuously educate those in our community who don’t understand, no one person (even a type A person like myself J) can do this work alone. It takes all of us to make a difference. Domestic violence is a community problem which requires a community solution. I believe we have to teach children to be non-violent, we need to stop blaming victims but most importantly, we must help our community reframe the violence and hold batterers accountable. Until we change the community conversation from, “why does she stay?” to “why are some people so controlling, they need to threaten or hurt their partner?” not much will change.
- Question: What services and programs are offered by HOPE? How you are able to offer these services and programs free of charge?
Laurel’s Answer: We offer a complete continuum of services for those who’ve had domestic violence impact their lives. We offer a 24 hour helpline for those who just need an empathic ear and someone to listen to them. We also offer safety planning which we believe is the backbone of HOPE’s services. We have counseling for adults and children including a bilingual (Spanish) counselor. We offer assistance with landlords, banks, etc. in an effort to promote economic justice. Of course, the Emergency Safe Shelter and staff who can help a person navigate through the courts, law enforcement and child welfare systems.
- Question:Our members are interested in knowing more about HOPE‘s Thrift Store “Hope Chest “and whether our ongoing clothing drive for Hope Chest (started by LWR member MaryLee Danahy), has made a difference. What types of clothing is needed most?
Laurel’s Answer: I cannot begin to tell you how much we value our partnership with the LWR Women’s Club and your ongoing clothing drive. Most of the funding HOPE receives is tied to specific activities. A foundation will pay for an outing for children, or a funder may pay for a court advocate but income streams that are ‘earned income’ allows us to pay for things that just come up, unexpected needs if you will. The income from the HOPE Chest creates a funding source that can be designated for the most pressing needs. However, having said that and in addition to the income and I would posit, more important is the HOPE Chest directly benefits our participants by offering basic things like clothing, free of charge — if they don’t have any when they come into the shelter, or household goods when they leave us and start over. Just think about it …so often people come to us in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their back. The fact that we can give them access to the items in the store gives them a sense of independence to shop for whatever they need for their family. I like to think of it as recycling for a higher cause.
- Question: In what ways do you see HOPE growing in the next few years?
Laurel’s Answer: We have a couple of exciting projects. I’m hopeful we will soon hear that our state organization, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, will receive a state-wide grant that will fund a lawyer for each and every center. We’ve had such an ongoing need for years for someone, specially trained on domestic violence and who understands the tactics a batterer uses in court and other systems, designed to help the survivor. This could be pivotal in providing the next level of service and offering another, innovative tool on a survivors tool belt which will help her stay safe.
- Question: Please tell us a little about you and why you chose to live and work in the Sarasota-Manatee area.
Laurel’s Answer: I ended up on the west coast of Florida by happenstance. I’m New Yorker and like most New Yorkers, we traveled up and down I95 to visit Florida. I moved here to go to college and met my first husband who moved us to the west coast. When the marriage ended, I had fallen in love with the area and stayed. I must tell you, being in Florida since 1978 and on the west coast since the early 80’s, I’ve seen enormous changes in our community. One of the things that’s never waivered is the community’s support of those we serve and that’s what keeps me here. What’s not to love about a town where people take the time to help others without expecting anything in return… and the weather’s pretty great too!
- Question: What do you like best about partnering with our LWR Women’s Club?
Laurel’s Answer: I love the partnership with the LWRWC for a variety of reasons. The women I’ve met have been the most fabulous people and clearly want to make a difference in our community. The members work hard to ensure their charities are supported in a hand on, generous and innovative way.
I’ve made great connections, have garnered sage advice from women who have been exemplary in their field. I am proud to be a partner with the LWR Women’s Club.