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Thirty years of service: A history of Seekhaven’s work in the Moab community

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  • 5 min to read

Seekhaven Family Crisis & Resource Center’s first logo in 1990 featured an illustration of Puebloan homes before a desert landscape. Moving into the 2000s, the logo changed to depict a house, parent and child, which has now evolved to the clean, teal and purple image — representing domestic violence and sexual assault services — it claims today. But more than Seekhaven’s logo has changed throughout its 30-year history.

The nonprofit was founded in 1990 primarily as a homeless shelter due to a collaborative effort between the housing authority and other volunteers — Seekhaven’s first members. Former Executive Director Stephanie Dahlstrom, who now works part-time at Utah State University, Moab, remembers when Seekhaven only had three employees. “We all kind of did everything,” she told the Moab Sun News. Now, the nonprofit boasts 19 staff members and a board of directors.

“When we first started, we were taking in everybody and everything because there was such a need in this area back then,” Dahlstrom remembered. “We realized quickly that we needed to focus on what we did well, which was serving sexual assault and domestic violence victims.”

In celebration of their 30th anniversary this year, Seekhaven will be collaborating with the Moab Museum to highlight the organization’s important work and successes in the Moab community in the past three decades. The exhibit will likely be presented in October, said current Executive Director Abigail Taylor, and will feature newspaper clippings, photographs and other media to commemorate the profound difference Seekhaven has made in the Moab community.

“That first core group in 1990 was made up of some employees and some volunteers, but a lot of work was done in overtime or in a volunteer capacity because the grants and the organization itself was so small that they couldn’t meet the need,” said Taylor in an interview with the Moab Sun News. “There are still times where I feel like, even though we’re such a large organization with so many contracts now, there’s still so much more need than we could ever really meet.”

Seekhaven was one of the first shelters established in rural Utah, alongside shelters in Price, Logan and Ogden. At the time, there was no statewide coalition — each shelter was disconnected, “doing their own thing in these little islands,” Taylor said. Utah was one of the last states in the country to criminalize spousal rape in 1993, a major victory for organizations like Seekhaven and the assault victims they supported.

Also in 1993, Seekhaven hosted its first “Puttin’ on the Ritz” gala, their annual fundraiser, the brainchild of Moab local Sheri Griffith.

“Shei helped us start that back when Moab was quiet during the winter. The offseason is a great opportunity to get everybody in the same room, in the dead of winter, to dress up together,” said Taylor. “It’s a really successful fundraising community awareness event that was unprecedented at that time in our community. It continues to be an event that people look forward to.”

Many “Ritzes” were held in Moab’s old civic center and at Red Cliffs Lodge, but the 2020 event took place at the Moab Hoodoo. Though Seekhaven had to cancel the 2021 gala due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization looks forward to hosting again at the Hoodoo in 2022. Each gala has been documented by local media and attendees, becoming a hallmark of Moab’s social calendar.

In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed, sponsored by now-president Joe Biden. For Seekhaven, the federal legislation meant protection and support for all victims of abuse, not only women. VAWA also ensures confidentiality for each Seekhaven client, “which is incredibly important in a small town,” said Taylor. No Seekhaven employee can disclose private information about a victim’s abuse, minimizing the likelihood of a perpetrator learning sensitive information about a client.

By 2000, Seekhaven had grown to 11 employees and an annual budget of approximately $500,000 with five government contracts in place. In 2003, Seekhaven received a rape prevention and education grant from the Utah Department of Health, which allowed the nonprofit to strengthen its relationship with Grand County and provide education to local youth. 2014 saw funding from a federal sexual assault service program grant, which was particularly noteworthy for its specific focus on sexual assault.

Seekhaven grew beyond its Grand County roots in 2018 to offer services in San Juan County to the south, an area notably different from Moab in size and demographics. The organization served 42 unique San Juan County clients in 2018, “which was pretty impressive,” Taylor said. “Our case loads aren’t necessarily one-and-done; many times, it’s talking every single day, sometimes for multiple hours at a time.” In 2020, they helped 77 clients in San Juan County.

A housing grant received in 2018 allowed Seekhaven to pay rent and utilities for victims of abuse in San Juan, which resulted in shorter shelter stays and limited retraumatization for survivors and their families. “While we like to think that the environment of our shelter is trauma-informed and promotes wellbeing, our clients are generally happier and more secure once they can leave a communal living [situation],” said Taylor. Seekhaven provided $91,400 in housing assistance to San Juan County victims in 2020.

The nonprofit also started a sexual assault support group in San Juan County called Seeking Safety in the fall of 2020. The coping skills-focused group is designed to be adaptable to a range of victims, including those suffering from addiction, sexual assault, domestic violence and more. Seekhaven employs both a general advocate and a sexual assault-specific advocate in San Juan County.

As of 2020, Seekhaven has expanded to 19 employees, an annual budget of $1.5 million and nine government contracts. They have also expanded their role from primarily helping the homeless to providing educational and prevention-focused workshops throughout Moab. The nonprofit has provided trainings to local high schools, clergies, libraries and others to dispel myths about domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and more.

For example, Seekhaven debuted its afterschool Making Proud Choices program for teenagers in December. The program is designed to teach youth ages 13 to 17 about safe-sex practices and how to build healthy relationships. The program is a testament to how the nonprofit has expanded its goals and services to best serve the community.

“We always wanted our programs to grow and get better. We realized early on that we wanted Seekhaven to start focusing on prevention rather than crisis work,” said Dahlstrom. “Seekhaven has since been able to expand on both.”

But behind Seekhaven’s growth has been an outpouring of continuous community support. Since the 1990s, Moabites have donated clothing, time and money to the organization to support survivors in the community. Such support has enabled Seekhaven’s expansion from a homeless shelter to an organization with rich programming and community outreach, assuaging expenses that Seekhaven’s grant funding cannot cover.

“Over the years, we have had amazing community support. It just reflects the impact of what our citizens can do when they recognize an issue,” Dahlstrom said. “It’s important to keep that going and to become the go-to place for the issues that Seekhaven addresses.”

Seekhaven has also prioritized community partnerships over its 30-year history. Local churches, government entities and nonprofits have collaborated with Seekhaven to work for joint causes, often providing critical support in the rural community.

“Seekhaven has a little bit of growth ahead of us as far as community engagement,” Taylor said. Though the organization has come so far in 30 years, she emphasized that there’s even further to go.

“One of the things that we've been aiming at is really targeting the guiding community, as well as the tourism industry and the hospitality industry in Moab,” Taylor continued. “Sexual assault is prolific and pervasive in these communities. We know that and we've worked with victims from those communities, we hear it from our friends, we hear it from our loved ones.”

Looking forward to the next 30 years, Taylor has quite a few things on her agenda. Her goals include improving working relationships with local law enforcement, establishing multidisciplinary response teams and focusing on upstream prevention methods to stop abuse before it can start.

“Our programming has changed over the years, and that’s something I love to look back at and consider as we grow and look at new options and opportunities to create a safe space for multiple people at once to process things they've gone through,” said Taylor. “At this point, we’re really trying to have these upstream activities that don’t rely on Seekhaven providing education, but making a change within our community and social structures.”