Intervening in, responding to, and preventing relationship abuse is of paramount importance to Family Services Alliance of Southeast Idaho. A $4,000 community grant from Pride Foundation, the first in southeast Idaho, is helping the organization expand its outreach services to the area’s LGBTQ community.
Originally founded in 1922 as the YWCA of Pocatello, Family Services Alliance (FSA) serves the three counties of Bannock, Caribou and Power—a 4,284-square-mile area in southeastern Idaho with a population base of more than 97,000. According to Sarah Leeds, FSA’s executive director since 2004, the organization was the first to offer a victim advocacy and emergency shelter program for domestic violence survivors in Idaho.
“Our primary mission is to promote safe and thriving families; work to end physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; and provide victim support,” Leeds said. “In our early years, we focused primarily on domestic violence, but as we learned more and as these crimes have become more exposed in our society, we have provided more outreach, and victims have come forward.”
In 2012 alone, FSA provided supportive services to 1,555 women, children, and men who were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, child abuse, and human trafficking. FSA also provides community outreach in the form of “Healthy Teen Relationship” education to middle and high school students, “Healthy Friendship” education to elementary school students, and basic and advanced education to adults in its core service areas.
Leeds first learned of Pride Foundation in July 2011 while staffing an FSA booth during Pocatello Pride, co-sponsored by Pride Foundation, and meeting board member Emilie Jackson-Edney during the festival.
“We chatted about FSA and I talked to her about my gut feeling that FSA wasn’t adequately addressing the needs of LGBTQ survivors of relationship abuse,” Leeds said.
With its grant, FSA is working to provide outreach and enhanced services to LGBTQ victims of domestic/dating violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking. Services will take the form of population-specific support groups for abuse survivors with the LGBTQ community, likely starting with one tailored to lesbian survivors of abuse. FSA expects to serve 70 lesbian women and 20 gay men with counseling and support services, and over 500 individuals with educational/outreach presentations.
“Our organization’s primary belief is that any type of relationship abuse is wrong, and we’re here to help survivors, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Leeds said. “More outreach is needed so that LGBTQ community members here know they are welcome at FSA. Our staff also needs to be equipped to serve them in a culturally sensitive way that both honors the differences among LGBTQ intimate relationships, but also recognizes the common ground among all abuse survivors—isolation, shame, self-blaming, etc.”
With those goals in mind, FSA mental health counselor Kirsten LaMantia, a Ph.D. counseling education student at Idaho State University, has added to her work plate the role of leading outreach efforts to the LGBTQ population in the Pocatello area, as well as heading up a support group for abuse survivors in same-sex relationships. These responsibilities stem directly from and are supported by Pride Foundation’s grant.
“Research is showing us that intimate partner violence can have far-reaching negative effects on people’s physical and mental health, thereby negatively affecting their ability to live lives in which they can be fully engaged and thriving,” Leeds said, summing up the importance of FSA’s work. “At the very core, this is a human rights issue. All people deserve to experience healthy relationships that are based on mutuality, equality, and respect. We’re thrilled to be expanding our work in this arena, and we’re particularly pleased that Pride Foundation has chosen FSA as one of its partners.”
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.