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Banking on KC – Courtney Thomas of Newhouse

 

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Courtney Thomas, the president and CEO of Newhouse, a nonprofit organization that addresses domestic violence by offering shelter and helping survivors heal. Welcome, Courtney.

Courtney Thomas:

Thank you so much for having me, Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

Courtney, give us an idea of domestic violence here in Kansas City. Its prevalence, its impact, and not only the direct impact that it has on the victims, but also on our community.

Courtney Thomas:

Absolutely. Oftentimes Kelly, many people think about domestic violence and they envision seeing a person with physical signs of abuse. So maybe that's the black eye, the broken arm, just the bruises that are visible to the human eye. But domestic violence goes beneath the surface under the skin and encompasses things like emotional abuse, financial abuse, and isolation.

Courtney Thomas:

So domestic violence is a broader problem and a broader issue than many people conceptualize. One of the staggering statistics is that one in three women, and one in four men will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. So that means for each of us, when we think about our family, our network, our friend circle, our work community, someone that we know and love, and maybe it's even us, is experiencing and living this life of domestic violence. Over the last several years, numbers continue to grow and spike. And certainly, during the pandemic, it has been a catalyst for an increase in domestic violence, because people have been stuck at home with their abusers, unable to make that call to seek and secure safety.

Courtney Thomas:

Se experienced at the beginning of the pandemic numbers from the police department to indicate a near 30% increase in our community. And that's a 30% increase in police showing up on the scene for a violent event, a domestic violence event. We also saw just the lethality cases. So lethality, meaning that the abuse or the scenario and number of factors that are involved in a situation increase the propensity for that individual to be murdered by their abuser.

Kelly Scanlon:

And you said they had been on the rise overall, even before the pandemic. Obviously the pandemic exasperated everything. What are some of the reasons why the pandemic aside, is it more reporting that's going on? What were the reasons behind those numbers prior to the pandemic?

Courtney Thomas:

There are a variety of factors, Kelly, that drive the increase. It is becoming a more comfortable topic for people to discuss, to raise awareness to. Historically, I mean, if you think about 20 years ago, 10 years ago, what happens at home stays at home, is oftentimes the mindset that is adopted by people. They don't want to talk about their personal business. Or there is stigma around those who are being abused, that perhaps they aren't strong enough, it must be their fault. People ask the wrong questions. Why doesn't she? And I do want to emphasize we at Newhouse serve people of all genders. So domestic violence just doesn't impact women, but women are the primary subjects of domestic violence.

Courtney Thomas:

So there has become an increasing comfort in talking about this issue. There is more awareness and factors being raised around the signs to look for in a domestic violence relationship. I mean, we're even seeing employers, schools, counselors, hospitals, when you go to the doctor's office, oftentimes in the restroom or in your exam room, there is information on the door about domestic violence support, or you're asked the question, "Do you feel safe at home?" So I think to answer your question more specifically around the increase, we're elevating awareness. We are trying to eliminate the stigmas that are oftentimes associated with that.

Courtney Thomas:

But one of the things related to the impacts of domestic violence that you asked about earlier, as a nation, it costs our country $8.3 billion, intimate partner violence costs our country $8.3 billion every year, primarily driven by the loss of productivity and missed days at work. So about 60% of victims lose their job because of the impacts to their mental health, and absences at work. Over 8 million lost days on the job occur every year because of domestic violence. So the impacts, even for people that struggle to understand, because maybe they've never experienced domestic violence or they don't have a person that they know of or can readily think of who has experienced it. When you think about the economic impacts and benefits to our communities, it's significant.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes, it absolutely is. And I think probably added to that is just the generational impact.

Courtney Thomas:

Absolutely. And domestic violence makes up about, or just over 20% of all violent crimes that occur. And for us at Newhouse, our shelter is located within a three-and-a-half-mile radius of where 85% of the violent crimes that happen in Kansas City or in Jackson County occur. As you mentioned, the generational issues, boys that grow up in a home where domestic violence is prevalent are 10 times as likely to become abusers themselves. And girls who grow up in that kind of a home where abuse is present are six times is more likely to be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.

Courtney Thomas:

So the generational impact, the trickle-down impact, and our focus at Newhouse is how do we shatter the barriers that feed the cycle of abuse? So we know that it spans just beyond, so far beyond the physical components of domestic violence. And it is a community health issue. It's a community health crisis from my perspective. And we have to be able to address the systemic issues in our community. If we really want to see these numbers begin to decline.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about Newhouse itself now. It is Kansas City's first domestic violence shelter. You just celebrated its 50th anniversary. And going back to what you talk about the systemic approach, it is a shelter. It does provide a safe haven for domestic violence survivors. But it also takes an ecosystem approach to domestic violence. Explain what that means.

Courtney Thomas:

Domestic violence is really made up of a number of components. And our approach at Newhouse is we want to do it differently. We want to approach this issue very differently. We do not view our role to be a primary safe haven for those that are escaping and providing therapy and providing case management, and housing, and then just hitting the rewind and repeat button rewind and repeat button. And that has been kind of the approach or the purpose of domestic violence shelters for years and years. It's let's help people heal, let's give them these resources, but we aren't getting to the root of the problem.

Courtney Thomas:

And what Newhouse wants to do is to really dig deep below the surface, kind of crack open the ground, if you can imagine that visual, and literally get to the root of the problem. In order to do that, we have to be bold and confident to address and overcome the racial and socioeconomic disparities, the access to healthcare advanced mental health services. We have to be willing to commit to job readiness training and helping people to attain jobs that can support them going forward.

Courtney Thomas:

Legal services are a huge component and an issue. Safe and affordable housing, substance use support, providing mentorship. How are we serving our children and our youth through programs beyond school care? How are we getting them into a community where they can see the possibilities and their potential for success? So we're looking at it from that approach, Kelly, creating this ecosystem that makes the things that I've just described accessible, equitable, and available to those that are experiencing domestic violence. Because until we solve those problems, those are the things that are at the root of domestic violence.

Courtney Thomas:

And it's one of the things we're most proud of in our work is helping people to see that a healthy relationship isn't one where you feel hurt, where you don't feel as though you can be your individual self. Healthy relationships encourage you. They advance your goals and dreams. They support you. They don't control you. And domestic violence is all about power and control in relationships.

Kelly Scanlon:

I imagine you need to work with a lot of community partners.

Courtney Thomas:

Yes. Yes. Our partnerships are pivotal in this work because no one organization can do it alone. And we address helping survivors meet their needs and solve their problems from an individual or what we call a survivor-centric approach. So we know that there is not a one size fits all solution. Everyone is coming from different, individual experiences, they have different and individual goals for their future. We know that there are cultural differences that we need to be aware of and support.

Courtney Thomas:

And our goal is to create a place of belonging for all people, and where people feel safe to come to receive the services that they need to live a successful. Missouri and Kansas, both rate in the top 10 states for victims to be killed by their abuser. That is not a statistic that any of us should be proud of. And that should be motivation for all of us to be part of the solution. In addition to that, last year in Kansas City, about 7,600 people, so this is in the metro, 7,600 people received support for their domestic violence needs, whether that was in shelter residential care, or non-residential or outreach services.

Courtney Thomas:

However, over 12,000 people reached out for help and agencies weren't able to extend support to them, because there was no room and there were no resources. So that's something as a community, we have to think about, again, this is a community issue. And it takes us all thinking about ways that we can individually contribute and that we can contribute as a society to solving this problem.

Kelly Scanlon:

In addition to your community partners, you also have some programs of your own at Newhouse. Can you give us an overview of what they are?

Courtney Thomas:

Absolutely. Our first primary focus when a person enters the shelter is meeting their basic needs. So do you need medical care? Are you hungry? Do you have pajamas to sleep in tonight? So first we want to meet a person's basic needs. And then we partner each survivor with an individual therapist that helps them to address and process their experiences and their trauma. We also have substance use and recovery counselor on staff that works with survivors, because we know that substance use is a coping mechanism and something that helps to dull the pain that people are experiencing when they are being abused.

Courtney Thomas:

And our goal is to help work with people, to overcome those challenges and to be whole within themselves. We also have case managers on site that work with people who might need services outside of our sphere or focus. For example, we have a partnership with University Health to provide psychiatric services, or if we have a resident that is on medication for depression, for example, that we can continue what we call this continuum of care for people at Newhouse to meet all of their needs.

Courtney Thomas:

Our case managers work with people on job readiness, or maybe they need a birth certificate or a driver's license. They work with them on housing. And we have programs that once people complete their goals and feel safe to shift into housing on their own, we put them into transitional or permanent housing placement. And they continue to work with our case managers for years to come after they leave the shelter. We want to continue to be an arm of support for them.

Courtney Thomas:

A couple of the programs that I am most proud of because it does address the generational issues, it does help us get to the root of the problem, and to address the future are our children's programs. We have multiple children's therapists on staff at Newhouse. We have an Early Education Center where we're offering full-time, early education, and childcare to our young residents. Also, have our Educational Innovation Center, which is for children kindergarten through high school. So a child in that age range can actually attend school at Newhouse. We have a master's level teacher on staff who works directly with those students.

Courtney Thomas:

If they don't feel safe to go to their resident school, or maybe they have a hybrid learning model, maybe they need extra tutoring. Then we provide that support in a shelter for those students, we are making an impact in so many ways, in so many lives, and because the community believes in our mission and our support, that is all possible. And we want to continue to expand our services. Our goal and our big vision for the future is to actually have a campus, a campus model, where there is space for those other community partners that provide resources and services that our survivors need.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the interesting projects that you're working on is a book. It's a book of letters. Tell us about what inspired the idea. Who's writing the letters? And what do you hope to accomplish with the publication of this book?

Courtney Thomas:

Our goal is to help survivors feel seen, heard, and supported. Domestic violence knows no racial, socioeconomic, gender, or educational boundary. It impacts all of us. And so often when survivors are told they aren't worthy, or they can never become anything, or no one will believe you, they lose such a sense of self-confidence or their ability to go forward and be successful. And so we wanted to leverage this opportunity for survivors to use their stories, to inspire and support others, so people don't feel alone. They can see there are people just like me who have gone through similar experiences and made it through successfully.

Courtney Thomas:

It gives them a platform and just a body of support that they may otherwise not receive. It also gives people the courage to share their stories. So this book that we want to create tells stories of triumph. Our goal is to turn trauma into triumph, to give people hope, for them to be able to see themselves in someone else. And to find that courage to stay strong. Earlier, when we were talking about the history of domestic violence, when you grow up in that environment, again, that becomes your norm, and it becomes easy to return to, if you don't keep a system of support around you.

Courtney Thomas:

And our goal in this book is to continue to be a resource for people, even when they leave the shelter or folks who've never even come to the shelter, so that they can read these stories and testimonials to say, "That's me. I see myself there." The book is produced, and all of the proceeds will go back to support the people that are calling Newhouse their temporary home.

Kelly Scanlon:

How did you get involved with Newhouse, Courtney?

Courtney Thomas:

I am a childhood survivor of domestic violence. So this cause has always been near and dear to me. Even in my days of animal welfare, I was developing programs to support survivors because 68% of survivors say they would've left their abusers sooner if they had a place for their pets to go. And 72% of people who enter shelters say that their pets have been used as maintaining some form of control over them. Either the pets have been abused as well, threatened to be abused or threatened to be significantly harmed or killed in some way, again, to maintain control.

Courtney Thomas:

So I've had a close connection to the work for my entire life. And I had the privilege to step onto the board at Newhouse in 2018, and really get to see firsthand the impact that the organization was having in our community, the opportunity for growth in our programs and 2019, the end of 2019, to step into the role as CEO. And during the pandemic, we really have seized this opportunity to accelerate our work. We have renovated the shelter. All of our resident rooms have been renovated. We have renovated all of the resident bathrooms and provided people with a private space.

Courtney Thomas:

The restrooms in the shelter used to be communal in nature, if you can imagine a dorm-type setting. And now there are private, six private restrooms on every floor. We renovated our children's center. We rebranded during that time. So it's been a busy and full two years. And part of it really too, Kelly, has been centered around elevating our profile in the community. First, you mentioned this amazing accomplishment of our existence over the last 50 years, being the first domestic violence shelter in Kansas City, but not many people knew who we were. And now I think our profile has definitely elevated in the community. People do know who Newhouse is. They're seeing us on social media. They're seeing us in the news. They're attending our events and they're wanting to be a part of our work.

Kelly Scanlon:

And along those lines, how can our listeners get involved and help? I know there's a variety of ways.

Courtney Thomas:

Yes. As a nonprofit organization, our greatest need is always going to be the funds to keep our programs and services, running in operational. We have the smallest budget of any shelter in Jackson County. Our need is very significant. So we're operating off of just over a $3 million budget. A person could choose to volunteer their time. And there are so many ways that you can be involved. You can work with our children in our summer camp. Maybe you'd like to come and do an activity or volunteer once a week in our children's center. You can also support our advocacy and crisis center. We provide training to people who are interested to be that voice on the other end of the line when someone calls for help.

Courtney Thomas:

We have several events throughout the year that allow you to connect with others and to support our work in significant ways. Our breakfast is in June, usually around the middle of June. There's no cost to attend that. And it gives you an opportunity to get to know more about our work, to hear the story of a survivor. In November, November 12th is our annual gala. It will be at the Lowe's Hotel. You can visit our website at NewhouseKC.org to learn more about that. And from a corporate perspective, we love to have corporate groups or other community groups come to the shelter to do a project together. So we can give you a project and you can see it to the finish line. And that is really rewarding for everybody involved.

Kelly Scanlon:

There are lots of different ways that you can engage with Newhouse where you can make a difference. The best place to go out and look at some of these opportunities is your website, as you said, NewhouseKC.org. And there are lots of resources out there. There's a lot more information about the programs that you described today. Courtney, thank you so much for taking the time to shed some light, to create some additional awareness about this very, very important issue. And thank you so much for all the work that you're doing.

Courtney Thomas:

My pleasure. Thank you, Kelly, for helping to shine light on our work.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Courtney Thomas for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Everyone deserves relationships free from domestic abuse. But as Courtney points out, domestic violence is far too common. Besides the physical, emotional, and financial toll it takes on individual victims, our communities pay a price too. Thank you to Newhouse and its partners for bringing the issue of domestic violence to the forefront, providing holistic resources, celebrating survivors, and educating all of us on the ways we can show our commitment to promoting healthy relationships. Thanks for tuning in today. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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