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Thu, Oct. 17

Stepping Stones looks at therapeutic response

In 1980, Robin Burke arrived in Yavapai County and started work at an agency that was known back then as Faith House. Part of a bigger company based in Phoenix, the organization became an independent program and changed its name to Stepping Stones Agencies in 2000, said Burke, the CEO of the agency.

The agency provides live advocacy for women and children who have experienced intimate violence. The do so 24 hours per day every day of the year. Stepping Stones takes a therapeutic response to intimate violence, Burke said.

“While intimate violence in all forms requires an immediate law enforcement and criminal justice intervention, it must also be accompanied by something far beyond that if we are ever to make permanent changes,” she wrote in the organization’s fall newsletter, adding that there are deep and systemic issues in addressing something as complex as intimate violence.

This includes upholding the rights of the person who experienced the violence as well as validating their experiences, Burke wrote, stating that in doing so, Stepping Stones advocates walk a fine line of addressing the victimization while also working with the person to look at issues where they can work to change themselves.

That’s courage and not victim-blaming, Burke wrote.

“We in no way blame the victim for what has happened to them, but we carefully examine, with them, those issues that may be keeping them vulnerable to abuse. For a victim to make a conscious decision to do the hard work necessary to truly change their lives and live free from all forms of victimization is huge,” she wrote, noting that how many people look at their own problems and consider addressing them while also battling verbal, emotional, physical or sexual violence. “This is what a victim of intimate violence needs to do in order to truly become empowered to take their life back, be willing to shed their victim posture and live free.”

The process at Stepping Stones starts with debriefing and talking about everything that’s happened, which takes a while, Burke said. Afterwards, the agency gets them involved in educational therapeutic programs that are age appropriate and when they stabilize, the organization has in-house paid job training programs, she said.

The programs include learning computer publishing, how to be a barista in the Step One Coffee House, library science in the Step One Bookstore and Gift Shop, point of sales systems, merchandising and customer service in the Stepping Stones Thrift Store and some also learn to be advocates, Burke said.

“We pay them to learn how to be advocates and a lot of them leave that program and go on to work at Yavapai Guidance Clinic and Catholic Charities and places around town,” she said, commenting that “about 40 people a year go through that paid training program and get placed when it’s over.”

Since only about 120,000 people reside in West Yavapai County, along with a large number of not for profits, Stepping Stones’ staff learned a long time ago that they had to do something different than all the others, Burke said. That’s how the social enterprises, the thrift stores, bookstore, coffee shop and mentor advocate program came about, she said, bringing up how it generates income for the agency’s services as well as provides paid job opportunities for the women in its programs and for those just getting out of prison or recovery homes and need help finding the initial job to rebuild their lives.

Burke said she loves everybody on her staff whether they’re paid or volunteer. Everybody is part of the process and is needed to make it work, she said.

“I am surrounded by amazing people that make this thing work every day and they get it, they understand what really will make change with these families and everybody here puts in 200 percent, Burke said. “Most of the talented people I’m surrounded by could get paid twice as much in the … for profit world, but they choose to serve instead and they’re phenomenal.”

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