By Kathy Hanks / The Hutchinson News / firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Dec 4, 2016 at 12:01 AMUpdated Dec 4, 2016 at 8:30 PM
The harsh realities of sexual assault and domestic violence had never crossed Donna Davis’ radar.
However, three weeks ago she was hired to be the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center’s executive director and admits there is much she’s learning about the organization, which hadn’t had a leader in more than a year.
A familiar face in Hutchinson, Davis has held a variety of leadership roles in the community, from serving as an administrator in both the Buhler and Hutchinson school districts to most recently leading the E-cycle program at TECH Inc.
“I had retired for two weeks,” Davis said of her recent departure from TECH. But that was long enough. When she learned of the opening, she jumped at the opportunity. After all, she is someone who doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
“I didn’t know much,” she admitted. “I didn’t know there was a shelter where people go when they are fleeing. I didn’t know they had a secure meeting room and two separate entrances for child visitation and exchanges. I didn’t know there was a 24-hour hotline which had 3,000 calls last year.”
The need is great
Before accepting the director’s position, Davis made certain the acting director, Lisa Hayes, didn’t want to continue on in the role.
However, Hayes prefers her role as director of advocacy services. One of Hayes’ duties is to coordinate and train all advocates for direct victim services for the agency, which serves not only Reno, but Harper, Kingman, Marion, McPherson and Rice counties.
Davis’ strong relationships in Hutchinson and its surrounding communities weren’t lost on the board.
“Donna’s desire to solidify, improve and expand sexual assault and domestic violence services in our area really made her stand out from our candidates,” said Melinda Young, SADVC board president. “Her vast management and grant experience, as well as her long history of volunteer work dedicated to serving others in crisis or need, made our decision as a board a unanimous one.”
People come to the center’s secured, second-floor office at 335 N. Washington St. feeling emotionally, physically, financially or verbally abused. The violence can include verbal abuse or threats, progressing to battery, rape, and even escalate to homicide.
“Abuse is a broad term,” said Hayes, who said there are advocates on call 24/7, plus they offer a 24-hour crisis hotline.
Currently the shelter house, which remains a secret location with 17 beds, is totally full.
“This is a busier time of year because of the holidays,” Hayes said. “I have seen it both ways. Some women and men put up with more to keep together or they split up so they can have a peaceful holiday and start fresh in the new year.”
The numbers are revealing. Nationally, one in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
“On an average, three or more women are murdered by their boyfriend or husband in the U.S. every day,” said Victoria Miller, SADVC victim advocate.
In Reno County in 2014, there were 883 domestic violence incidents, with only 516 arrests made. However, in the six counties the center serves, there were 1,195 incidents of violence, with only 695 arrests made.
“We service quite a few men,” Miller said. Men needing shelter are put up in a motel. Last year the center offered services to 66 males. “We’re here to serve all victims.”
A graduate of Trinity Catholic High School, Davis returned to Reno County to serve as principal of Prosperity Elementary School, before moving on to an administrative position at USD 308. Back in 2010, she went to Topeka to testify about the needs of students.
“Slowly after that, they kept cutting and cutting,” Davis said. “I got tired of being part of all that cutting. So I cut myself free.”
While retired, she purchased the home next-door to her own and learned how to remodel. After watching YouTube videos, she set to work installing light fixtures and doing the odd jobs around the house. Her dad, Don Davis, helped with the project, which she turned into a rental property.
Once that project was completed, she decided she needed a new challenge and saw an advertisement for a position at TECH Inc.
“I thought it would be interesting, and my goal was to see the E-cycle program up and running,” Davis said.
That mission was accomplished, and now she’s digging in, learning all that is necessary to run this nonprofit organization. The center relies on state and local funding, including United Way. She plans to write grants to help with continued funding, plus develop strategic planning.
“The needs are growing as funding is being cut,” Davis said. “We rely more and more on our community and need more focus in the community to step up.
“The assistance that SADVC provides to those in need is crucial. I have immense respect and admiration for the work undertaken by staff, board members and community members who provide for the needs of the center. I’m excited about this opportunity to strengthen SADVC’s partnership and collaboration with area agencies and our community.”
As she learns more, Davis wants to make certain people know this agency is available to help.
“Some come with nothing. They just get out the door,” Davis said. “When I think of those women who have nowhere else to go, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so alone.”