Sunday, January 16, 2011

Powerful Impact People: Sandra Koorejian

“What do you want to see happening and what can we do together to promote your safety?” This is a question often repeated by Sandra Koorejian, Director at the Domestic Violence Services (DVS) of Greater New Haven, a program of Birmingham Group Health Services, Inc.  This program helps thousands of victims of domestic violence every year, in a wide variety of ways and Sandra has been with them since 1987. Her duties range from program developer to fund raiser to grant writer. 
She acknowledges that successful grant writing is an‘art’. “The trick to successful grant writing is that you have to truly believe in your mission. You have to have a compelling story and a track record. More importantly you have to follow the directions.” 
Fund raising this year includes a Bowlathon, March 5th. “Almost everyone enjoys bowling and the people who participate know it’s for a good cause”. Last year they raised $25,000. “In this Economy it is particularly hard doing private fund raising but our expenses continue to go up.  Do the math, you find yourself in a desperate situation”.  
Among the many services DVS offers is a 24 hour hotline that is bilingual and anonymous. “When people call the hotline they sometimes feel ashamed or blamed. And we say there is nothing you could have done where you deserve to be treated this way and we tell them that they are not alone. What can we do together to help you be safe?”  
In fiscal year 2010 DVS responded to 103 hotline calls from Milford residents.  A 300% increase over other years.  “It’s the economy. People losing their homes, jobs, it increases pressure.”  
DVS has a 15 bed emergency shelter in New Haven for families with children up to age 17 and those families can stay for up to 60 days.  Counselors work with the women to find housing, employment, and other needs. They also help the women deal with their feelings of low self-esteem, victimization and guilt “We have food, linens, transportation tokens and we can arrange for them to relocate if necessary for safety.”

They have victim advocates on the criminal and civil side.  There were 269 victims in the past year that worked with the criminal victim advocate, an 11% increase.  And the civil advocate worked with 103 Milford residents this year.   
“We also offer community education programs. Our advocates go into the high schools and senior centers to speak about healthy and unhealthy relationships. We do all this for free and everything is confidential.”  
While being a "victim" is not a place anyone would care to find themselves, Sandra’s compelling reason for the hard work she and DVS do is understandably bold and empowering.  “I feel like ultimately what we are helping people do is reach their potential. We are speaking out against the use of violence as a means to and end. It’s ultimately about power and control and when we help victims understand it in those terms they are freed from feeling that it’s their fault.”  

For more information about Sandra and Domestic Violence Services, please visit

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