Wellness Warriors take aim on violence

Right here in Alaska there is a program that offers hope for change around the issues of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and neglect. People are breaking the silence!

For more than 10 years, Southcentral Foundation's nationally and locally recognized Family Wellness Warriors Initiative program has focused on providing the skills and tools necessary to end domestic violence, child abuse and neglect in this generation.

Participants include adults who have experienced domestic violence, child abuse and/or neglect and "natural helpers," such as teachers, pastors, priests, health care professionals, law enforcement, community and tribal leaders, who attend the trainings to gain a better understanding of how past harm impacts ways people relate to and interact with others. The training workshops and related support services build protective factors and resiliency skills, which improve a person's ability to deal effectively with these issues within the context of their own story and experience. The result is greater self-understanding and an ability to use key self-help principles to enter into healthier relationships with others.

This type of recovery program is not for everyone. A participant application process ensures that the program is a good fit. Applicants are screened out if they are experiencing thoughts of self-harm and/or alcohol or drug abuse. Clinical staff make referrals to alternative resources for those who do not qualify for the initiative.

In 2008, Family Wellness Warriors Initiative relocated to a quiet property off Tudor Road, where the serene surroundings have provided an environment for deep and rich healing. The importance of this kind of setting for healing has been discussed in research literature for decades and frequently appears in the positive feedback provided by initiative participants. With this property, Southcentral Foundation's master plan was to create a small and tranquil campus. Our first planning and zoning meeting -- which invited full community participation -- took place in 2008. We recently had our second planning and zoning meeting where the public was notified of our proposal to add a small auditorium. The initiative has held several neighborhood outreach and community awareness events, and continues to manage its events in a way that minimizes the impact on its neighbors.

The need is very great in our state. But, rather than increasing trainings to multiple times per month to meet the demand, FWWI had planned to increase the capacity through the addition of the small auditorium. This would allow for a greater number of participants to attend trainings that occur just a few times a year. Neighbors have voiced concern that such an expansion could increase vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood. FWWI has taken measures to ensure that this will not be the case. Participants park their vehicles off-site and no more than 10 employees park on-site. Buildings that used to be residential apartments are now used less frequently as participant dormitories. In the past, upwards of 70 or more residents were transient to this area every single day. FWWI has had a positive impact on the neighborhood. It has reduced traffic and the crime rate has dropped.

The program impacts are obvious to many Alaskans. Over the last decade, the initiative has earned strong support and partnership of foundations, nonprofit service providers, tribal leaders, state agencies, the faith community and other members of the communities it serves. FWWI is pleased that other groups across the nation and state are using our program as a model and conducting their own trainings. CEUs and college credits are offered by Alaska Pacific University for completion of initiative, and formal award recognition has been presented by the office of the governor, Alaska Public Health Association, National Indian Health Board, the national Mary Byron Foundation and others.

The Family Wellness Warriors Initiative is making great strides to end domestic violence, child abuse and neglect in this state. The initiative is a proven community partner and appreciates the strong support of those walking this journey of wellness with us.

Katherine Gottlieb oversees the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative as the president and CEO of Southcentral Foundation, which manages more than 65 health care programs and services.