Project Hope: A beacon in the dark

Helping victims of domestic violence find safety and healing

By Katherine Nettles

The uncomfortable topic of domestic violence, or the more modern term inter-relational abuse, is one that many people involved with local nonprofit Project Hope of the Gunnison Valley talk about regularly. And they want us all talking about it more, since the reality is that, on average, one in three women in the U.S. experience a form of relationship violence in their lifetime. In Colorado, the occurrence is slightly higher, and throughout October, which is domestic violence awareness month, Project Hope is taking extra steps to reach out to the community and help more victims of inter-relationship violence, sexual assault and human trafficking—men, women and children—find a pathway to safety and healing. 

Project Hope offers emergency services to victims including a 24-hour/seven days a week crisis line, a safe shelter, food, clothing, personal items and transportation out of town for those who need it. It also offers advocacy services, such as crisis intervention and safety planning, court advocacy, restorative justice and community outreach and education. All services are free and confidential. Advocates speak English, Spanish and Cora, and as community-based advocates they do not force anyone to report their situations to law enforcement or other authorities. 

Project Hope has evolved from what was originally called the Jubilee House, a private home in Crested Butte that opened its doors in 1984 to shelter adults and children who were victims of domestic violence. As the Jubilee House’s needs grew, it moved to Gunnison and became the Gunnison/Hinsdale Confidential Advocacy Center and The Center for Restorative Practices, and in 2014 it became known as Project Hope. The confidential organization provides services to those affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and/or human trafficking.

 This month, Project Hope flyers can be found around the community to help inform people of their services and ways to get involved as an advocate of the organization. Paradox Footwear is selling reusable shopping bags to benefit Project Hope, Favor the Kind is hosting a private Give Joy party and donating a portion of proceeds to the nonprofit, and Treads and Threads in Gunnison has dedicated a display window to the organization.  

Katie Thomas, Project Hope’s director of community engagement, says Project Hope’s second annual Stand with Me luncheon in September made a significant impact as its major fundraiser for the year, raising about 13% of their annual budget needs and drawing more than 200 attendees and 35 volunteers. 

Thomas says the event achieved another important goal of raising awareness about the types and prevalence of inter-relational abuse to the community and the services Project Hope provides. She says several people have come forward in the weeks since the luncheon seeking help.

“The cycle of trauma is a really hard cycle to break,” Thomas explains of the difficulty people have in taking that first step.

She says that relationship and partner dynamics vary so much that sometimes people become unintentionally abusive, and sometimes people do not fully realize that they are victims or that they know a person in this situation until they get more information. “And a lot of those behaviors escalate over time,” says Thomas. “Most people tell a friend first. So, the more people who know about Project Hope, the better.”

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, everyone knows someone impacted by relationship violence or intimate partner violence, even if they don’t realize it. The Project Hope website describes various forms of abuse and offers many options for those looking to get help changing course for themselves or to advocate for others. 

Thomas describes how education and outreach can help give victims the courage they need to seek help, and it can help prevent abuse as they teach people at an early age how to form healthy relationships. This outreach begins with talking to seventh graders in the Gunnison Valley school district about what a healthy friendship looks like, and teaching college students at Western Colorado University about it as well. They are open to the community as a continual resource for prevention.

“Project Hope can come talk at events,” says Thomas of their ability to do brief introductions in various settings to keep the word out.

She says that the organization can benefit from more volunteers, monetary or supply donations, “especially around the holidays,” and most of all, people continuing to talk about it.

“I think that’s one of the coolest things about the time that we’re living in right now is there is so much emphasis on this new self-care and shadow work and learning about trauma,” says Thomas. “Trauma is a trending word right now, because people are looking at their own trauma and realizing ‘Oh, this is something that happened to me when I was young that has affected how I have relationships with friends, with family, with partners, and how I can change these patterns to better myself and my relationships.’ It’s a lot easier said than done. But breaking that generational trauma is kind of a new model for this,” she says.  

And last, “There’s a reason that there are so many nonprofits in this community,” muses Thomas, who was raised in the valley. “We have a community here that takes care of each other.”

For more information about Project Hope services or to get involved, visit https://www.hope4gv.org.

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