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Staff Spotlight: Valarie Smith

This issue’s staff spotlight features our Comprehensive Advocate, Valarie Smith. Her work centers on creating a fun, safe environment for the children who reside in our emergency shelter. She also specializes in working with  clients to help them find transitional housing. See the full story here [Link to the rest of the story]

Q. Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do in your free time?

I am an adult/child advocate at New Horizons, so I work with the families along with their children.  I also work with CCADV’s Rapid Re-Housing department. For me, in my free time these days, I love spending time with my family. I am a very family-oriented person, I love my family, and I want them to love each other. When I leave this earth, I want them to still be close and call on each other in their time of need. If you need to talk, call your brother.  And I want my sons to be involved with each other’s children.  I have a son that likes coaching sports and he brings along his nephew.  And I love having my grandkids over.  They will spend the night and I cook for them in the morning.

I also bake in my free time. I sell baked goods during the holidays and I love baking to give to people as well.  I guess I give of myself so much because I love to see people happy.

Q. What was your typical day before the pandemic and what does your typical day look like now?

The answer will surprise you.  My days are exactly the same if not busier during the lockdown.  We didn’t miss a beat.  The only difference is I didn’t go out to see the clients, we talk to them over the phone now. We have plenty of support over the phone, moving people along in housing and hotel placement.    

For the most part, I will follow up with people I am working with or receive a phone call from the hotline, where you have to give that emotional support, which can run anywhere between 20 mins to an hour. You want to hit the points that have them so upset, schedule an appointment or give them some hope, because that’s what they are looking for… “just tell me there is hope in all this”.  So that’s a typical day, but you really don’t know what to expect.  It can go from one hotline call to ten hotline calls.  A crisis may come up which has to be addressed before other work can get done. 

Right now, it has appeared to slow down a little, at least on my end, but the stories are so severe lately, compared to the start of my career at New Horizons. I worked in mental health, substance abuse and homelessness for 30 + years but DV is different, it really, really is. I now realize that a lot of the women I dealt with in my previous job were in DV situations, but I didn’t see it that way.  I would encourage them for other reasons, but not with the mindset of DV at all.  So, understanding DV more, especially the emotional part, its hurtful, it’s hard to let it go when you go home.  The cases are just so severe, and I hope more people realize that emotional abuse holds just as much weight as the physical… the torment of it. A client told me recently “Valarie, I just feel so broken.”  The way she said it, in those words… I felt her brokenness through the phone.

Q. What drew you to become an adult advocate? What inspired you to make that change?

I was laid off from my previous job and a young lady that works for CHC reached out to me and said there is an opening that she felt I would be good at.

Q. How is this different from your previous work?

Working with a person who is homeless, you can call and get them into a shelter. A person with substance abuse issues… that’s two-fold. My thinking is changing a little, its shifting. No one wakes up in the morning and says I want to be a substance abuser. You are focusing on getting them into treatment, asking them if this is what they really want to do, send them to meetings, and all sorts of other things. The difference between working with homelessness and drug abuse and working with someone who is a victim of relationship violence is that there is are so many more layers to working with a relationship violence victim. Homelessness, you may have lost your job or got kicked out of where you are staying, but with relationship violence you fell in love with these people and then, they change on you right in the middle when you least expect it. You must take a different approach with DV. You must be very delicate in your approach. One wrong word can send them right back to the abuser. One wrong word can make them feel like, “that’s what my abuser used to say” or at least receive it that way.

Q. What inspires you about your work in the relationship violence field? What keeps you coming back every day?

Giving hope to people. Letting them know they are stronger than they think. Working with people to inspire them, get their lives back on track where they can handle it. Letting them know they are more than a conqueror, that they have a strength inside of them that they know nothing about until they are backed into a corner and fighting for their survival.  This is what really inspires me, because I love a good outcome.

Q. What advice do you have for possible clients who are looking for assistance from New Horizons?

The first thing I would say to them is YOU CAN DO IT. There is nothing that’s impossible once you make up your mind, because I can’t tell you to leave or to stay.  I will show you red flags and highlights so that you can see clearer, but it’s your decision to make.  The first thing they would say is “I can’t afford to leave”, “I don’t want to leave my kids behind”, “I don’t want him to come looking for me”, things of that nature.

Working with them to create a plan really helps, drawing that picture so they see it’s possible.  Before you know it, you are working with them toward those goals. You have to help them to understand… would you rather be in danger or living to build again? 

And then therapy.  Therapy is very important to help them put things in its proper box.

Q. What do you think it would take to have a future without intimate partner violence?

We need the police force in every state to really understand the severity of intimate partner violence. It’s not a casual thing. They really need to understand, as well as society, the severe effects of emotional and verbal abuse. I don’t think people do.  If you don’t have a black eye, then people think that you can handle it, that everything’s ok, but that’s not true. These people are broken. Intimate partner violence causes more homelessness, more suicidal deaths, it causes more children to be removed from their homes and placed in the system when they don’t need to be, because there is too much emotional drama going on in their homes.  It also has generational effects. What choices are these children going to make in their own relationships?

I think it’s a community effort. We need to shout as loud as we can that, we are our brother’s keeper.

If you see something, say something. No more silence!