HOPE now providing sexual assault services
By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor
HOPE Coalition has added services to victims of sexual assault to the array of services it offers residents of Goodhue and Wabasha counties.
A full-time staff member, Laura McDonough has been added to the coalition staff to provide direct services to victims of sexual assault.
“The board could see it was important to have a local provider of these services” after SARA — the Sexual Assault Resource Agency — discontinued victim services in March, HOPE Coalition Executive Director Kris Kvols explained.
“It seemed like an appropriate step for the agency to take,” she added, citing the other services the coalition provides in the two-county region.
With two dozen staff members — a combination of full-time, part-time and relief staff — the coalition operates Haven of Hope, formerly known as the Women’s Center for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse; Kids Count, a program for abused children; and Community Outreach/Legal Advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Also under the HOPE Coalition umbrella at the Mayo Professional and Community Center are the Community Care Fund, which provides emergency funding for basic needs; and Transitional Housing, which includes three long-term and two short-term units in the community.
Kvols, who was director of SARA for seven years before taking the HOPE Coalition leadership role four years ago, said the transition from SARA to HOPE Coalition was accomplished after short-term funding was provided by the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs. A grant to cover the next three and a half years was awarded in April.
In July, she added, the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties awarded a one-year grant to support direct services to victims of sexual assault.
McDonough, who had been a volunteer advocate with SARA for eight and a half years, was chosen as the new program’s advocate and spokesperson. “We’re also advertising to hire a part-time advocate,” Kvols said.
Educated in art history, McDonough has worked for years in art-related positions. She was at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota before joining HOPE Coalition.
Although it was not her primary career, McDonough said she has 17 years of cumulative advocacy experience in both a voluntary and a professional capacity.
“Throughout the years I have participated in many trainings and workshops on sexual assault services advocacy,” McDonough said. Noting that advocates are required to have 40 hours of certification training, she said she has been certified in Florida and Maryland as well as in Minnesota. “I also trained in suicide intervention,” she said.
Some others who were volunteers with SARA are transitioning to fill that role with HOPE Coalition, the women noted. More volunteers are being sought.
“It takes an extreme amount of dedication, empathy and compassion,” Kvols commented. She explained that among other tasks, volunteers work the 24-hour sexual assault crisis line, answering calls from people with a wide variety of urgent needs.
“It’s not for everyone. It takes a certain temperament,” McDonough said.
Calls for advocates may come in the middle of the night from victims facing emergency situations, she explained, or they could be from long-ago victims struggling to deal with issues that abruptly resurfaced. Advocates also respond to requests from law enforcement, county social services and hospital emergency rooms.
“Our primary role is to provide victims with as much information as they need at the time about their options, so they can make informed choices,” McDonough said. “Our primary goal is to help survivors find safety, healing and justice, at their own pace.”
Advocates meet with both primary and secondary victims — people close to the victims who also are affected.
“Most people who go into advocacy have some direct or indirect experience with it,” McDonough said. “That’s true for child abuse and domestic violence advocates as well,” Kvols agreed.
The advocates team up with professionals who also are working with the victims, Kvols added — the Goodhue County SMART team or Sexual assault, Multi-disciplinary Action Response Team. The team includes a variety of professionals who interact with the victims, from police and court personnel to medical and mental health professionals.
HOPE Coalition became the fiscal agent for the SMART team last spring, Kvols said. The new part-time coordinator for the team is Katherine Cross, who also is a family advocacy specialist with Three Rivers Community Action Inc.
How to access services •Sexual assault services support line, available 24/7 at 800-519-6690
•Advocate Laura McDonough, Monday-Friday, 651-388-9360 ext. 1
•Website hope-coalition.org (click on the “get help” tab)
•In person at Mayo Professional and Community Center, 1407 W. Fourth St., Red Wing