There are times when all of us need a role model to show us what we can do and where we might go. And sometimes, after months or even years of isolation, “I’ve been there,” are the words survivors need to hear the most.
That’s why we’ve started connecting people who have come through our programs with those at the very beginning of their healing process. The program, called Peer Support, began through the efforts of Lisa Pous, who has remained connected to SafePlace since spending two years in shelter and supportive housing recovering from abuse and trauma.
Even after Lisa felt like she had reached a place of peace in her own life, she kept coming back. “I thought to myself, I know how to get through crisis now, and I know how to survive. But I want more.” So Lisa engaged with SafePlace, and she helped bring the perspective of a survivor to her role as a volunteer leader and educator in the Life Skills and Survivor Voices program. “Then one day I tripped on a TEDTalk and realized that there was a name for what I’d been doing,” she said, “Peer support!” It was the missing piece.
The program is in many ways a return to the roots of the domestic violence movement, which has always been survivor-led. Lisa worked with staff members to develop training and supervisory protocols, while also working toward her own Peer Support Specialist certification. The Peer Support program is trauma-informed, survivor centered, and empowerment based, with roots in the 12-step model and social justice movement. And today at SafePlace, 14 Peer Support Volunteers meet twice a month with survivors staying in the Kelly White Emergency Shelter.
Victims of abuse have often experienced months or even years of isolation from other support systems like family, friends and co-workers. Through the Peer Support Program, they are able to begin building new relationships with people who know what they are going through.
“Peer Support is the greatest instiller of hope we can provide,” says Supportive Housing Advocacy Manager Erin Goodison. “For our clients, seeing survivors who have successfully rebuilt their lives — and now dedicate their time to helping others — is both inspiration and motivation through difficult times.”
Knowing that the person facilitating group has left violence and trauma and reached a place of safety, stability and peace can be more impactful for survivors than any statistic, book or brochure that we could share with them. Peer Support gives people healing from violence, abuse and trauma a person to look to and say, “I could be like that.”