What is an advocate?
Through my work at Genesis Women’s Shelter, I have found that working as an advocate in a domestic violence shelter is not just a job – it’s a calling. In social services, advocates seek to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are supported in exploring choices and options. We do this by defending and promoting the client’s rights and responsibilities to access information and services.
Advocates at Genesis work specifically with survivors of domestic violence to help them become and remain as safe as possible. These needs are different for each woman – for some, it may include assistance in navigating resources for their children; for others, it can mean identifying the resources needed for self-sufficiency, such as housing, employment or mental health needs. We also discuss if she has proper documentation: some clients may need a new ID, birth certificate or social security card for herself and/or her children. These documents are critical when applying for services and help, but sometimes her abuser has destroyed them. Although all clients and advocates are unique, safety is a common thread and is always the number one priority.
Advocates also work closely with other partner organizations to assist with a variety of services. Legal Aid of Northwest Texas assists with taxes, identity theft, disability and related issues. Attitudes & Attire, a nonprofit organization in Dallas, helps our clients prepare for the job market by working on resume-building, dressing and preparing for an interview and other related skills. We also work with the Hopeful Smile program, a dental program that offers pro-bono orthodontic work. Some survivors of domestic violence lose their front teeth due to assaults, so the Hopeful Smile program offers them a chance to correct their dental problems, going a long way in restoring confidence and dignity.
Counselors and advocates at Genesis also facilitate and lead different groups throughout the day, such as life skills, domestic violence education, coping skills and parenting skills. During these classes, there is both laughter and serious discussion as our clients move toward healing. More than anything, I am always impressed at the courage and stamina that the women demonstrate in everything they do.
Throughout the week, Genesis staff meets to discuss each case and what’s working, what may not be working and how to best serve each client. At the end of the day, I leave knowing that there have been both challenges and successes, and always more work to come back to tomorrow. My coworkers and I work as a team for each and every client. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with survivors of domestic violence – some of the bravest and most courageous women I know.
Written by Kristene Ruddle, client advocate at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support