“Everyone’s life is as precious as the next."
This is the credo Cheyanne Friend demonstrates every day in her position as Lead Advocate at the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program’s emergency shelter: Hope House.
Cheyanne has been working with the YWCA since May 2017 and was appointed the Hope House’s Lead Advocate in December 2017. “For as long as I can remember my heart was always yearning to help the less fortunate,” she explained. Unsure what kind of philanthropy work she was meant to do, Cheyanne bounced from job to job. Then she heard about the YWCA’s mission, and something clicked.
The Resolve Family Abuse Program (or “Resolve,” for short) is the YWCA’s domestic violence outreach. It is the only licensed domestic violence program serving Kanawha, Clay, and Boone counties. Other YWCA services, such as the Batterers Intervention/Prevention Program (BIPP), Ending Violence Through Education (EVE), and the Monitored Visitation & Exchange Center, are part of Resolve. The program also offers counseling and a 24-hour crisis hotline.
The Hope House is intended to act as a temporary safe haven for women fleeing abusive situations, as well as a support system to help get them back on their feet. “We accept them into our shelter and provide them with a tremendous number of tools to succeed, [including] housing, employment, relocation, legal aid, financial assistance, etc.” There can be anywhere from 5 to 16 residents at the same time, and about half bring children with them.
Needless to say, Cheyanne is always busy. “There is never a typical day at this shelter, because you have many different families in the shelter with different needs and situations. We are always talking, connecting, laughing, and teaching…in return, we as a shelter learn so much from these families as well.”
An individual’s stay is limited to 30 days unless an extension is approved, due to limited space and high demand. Cheyanne wishes this period could be longer, since victims often experience delays getting their paperwork through the system. Residents are encouraged to utilize the shelter’s individual and group counseling services, and to be actively preparing for their next step.
Cheyanne believes establishing relationships with residents is the most important part of her job. “These women don’t just need an advocate, they need a friend, shoulder to cry on, ear to listen, a voice to speak…they need that experience, connection, a true sense of guidance and someone who is understanding.” She added, “Working in an emergency shelter is an amazing, rewarding, hurtful job because you will tend to build such a bond with [the women] and wish you could do so much more for each of them.” And the relationships Cheyanne forms with residents often don’t end when they leave: “My job is never done; even upon departure of each resident, I stay connected with them.”
The shelter’s phone number is advertised, but for the women’s safety, its location is not public knowledge. Even so, there have been issues with residents revealing this information to their abusers. When this happens, “immediate exit of the resident is required and conducted. We also will have ‘no return’ database info inputted, where the resident is not allowed to return to the shelter.” This is an unfortunate but necessary precaution and is explained to every resident upon arrival.
Residents’ lives after leaving the Hope House usually go one of two ways: they maintain their new life or they return to their abusive situations - often because it’s all they know. This is where empathy really matters, Cheyanne explained, because it’s important not to be judgmental.
For Cheyanne, there is “no greater feeling than the feeling of helping those in need.” This passion extends beyond her work at the shelter. She and her family spent last Christmas at the Hope House’s sister shelter – the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women & Families, where they put on a multicultural performance and distributed raffle prizes. “We wanted to show the people and community that they are not alone or forgotten.
We are all family and that is what families do on Christmas—spend time with each other. It was a blessing to see their faces and gratitude for the little we could do to make that day special for them.”
The duties of Lead Advocate can be emotionally draining, but Cheyanne recognizes how important it is to listen to each woman’s story and provide comfort whenever possible. “We as people can sometimes forget that there is a lesson to every trial and circumstance we face, but once we climb that mountain we will be able to share the experience with others.”
As a supporter of Girls Night Out, you are helping survivors of domestic violence by staffing and keeping the lights on at the Hope House. Ensure no victim is turned away. Make your commitment today!