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A pearl in the pandemic: Seekhaven celebrates 30 years, continues services despite COVID-19

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  • 4 min to read

Abigail Taylor had never worked at a nonprofit before joining Seekhaven Family Crisis & Resource Center. A sixth-generation Moabite, she dabbled in restaurant work and lived in Seattle before returning to the desert in 2014.

“I honestly was just looking for work that I was just more passionate about,” she said about her time away. “I definitely miss running around and throwing dishes in the sink, but I felt that I needed to care more about what I was doing.”

That’s when she found Seekhaven, and worked her way up from director of programs to executive director, a role she took on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t recommend that people get promotions during pandemics,” Taylor joked.

But Taylor found her niche greeting clients in Seekhaven’s lobby, writing countless grant applications and helping Moab’s vulnerable through their toughest times. “Between my personal experience with abuse and violence, as well as knowing friends and family members who had gone through those things, I felt like Seekhaven’s mission was something that I understood in a very profound way,” she said.

This year, Seekhaven celebrates 30 years of serving Moab’s community members who have suffered domestic violence, physical or emotional abuse and sexual assault. Though they couldn’t host their regular Puttin’ on the Ritz gala fundraiser due to the pandemic, the nonprofit raised a total of $74,241, almost $30,000 of which was collected from community donations, in a pearl-themed anniversary campaign.

“Pearls are the typical 30th year anniversary gift in a marriage. To us it became this symbol of resilience — adapting to something that was perhaps painful or traumatic or otherwise destructive, and then building oneself back up afterwards,” said Taylor.

Seekhaven also collected “pearls of wisdom” from community members and past clients — stories of accessing Seekhaven’s services and how the nonprofit changed their lives.

“I stayed in the shelter for a little over a month. My children were treated like family by the staff,” reads one “pearl” from an anonymous shelter resident. “I left Seekhaven knowing that my life needed some mending. And that I was the captain of my own ship. That there were resources for me, but I was the ultimate decision maker.”

Taylor and Seekhaven have always prided themselves on being “client-led” in the same way that the shelter resident described. Though many Moab residents may consider Seekhaven first and foremost a shelter, the nonprofit has focused on expanding its reach, services, advocacy and community engagement in the past year. “People don’t need to be homeless in order to access advocacy services, financial assistance, counseling or any of the other great things we do,” Taylor added.

They recently hired a development director to help Seekhaven partner with other nonprofit organizations in Moab; “I'm hoping to do more events in the future since we have some really great nonprofit partners in the community. It's always just such an exciting thing to go attend their events and go and support these different causes,” Taylor said.

Seekhaven has also floated a bystander intervention course for the near future to give those potentially witnessing harmful and abusive behavior the tools to step in. “It’s actually called upstander training, so that instead of being a bystander, you can involve yourself,” Taylor explained. “It’s about de-escalating the situation and getting the victim to a safe space.”

Seekhaven especially served as a safe space during the pandemic, when domestic abuse cases spiked nationwide. As Moab residents faced job uncertainty, cabin fever and threats to their health, quarantines became prisons.

Compared to July through September in 2019, Seekhaven served 7.9% more unduplicated individuals in 2020. During the same period, they saw a 105.9% increase in hotline calls received, a 121.8% increase in emergency shelter nights, a 71.2% increase in documented services hours, and — most significantly — a 500% increase in High Risk lethality assessments, Taylor reported. The Lethality Assessment Program is a multidisciplinary intervention in which first responders assess victims of intimate partner violence using 11 questions, such as whether they have been threatened with a weapon or if their partner is unemployed. If the victim is considered high risk, or the first responder has a “gut feeling” that the situation is potentially lethal, they immediately connect them with services, Taylor explained.

“It was shocking to see statistics like that. But the correlation does make sense, because stress can increase and escalate domestic violence.” she said. “There wasn’t time or space for people to blow off steam that they generally would otherwise.”

When the pandemic began, many Moab workers were able to receive unemployment benefits after businesses shut down, but many couldn’t. “Many people were scared, frustrated and unstable. Those experiences are directly correlated with increased domestic violence cases,” Taylor said. “And whether or not those home situations were violent in the first place, there might have been some power dynamic going on that was unhealthy, violent or abusive.”

Like many other organizations in Moab, Seekhaven closed its doors and scrambled to shift to online services when the pandemic began. Their chapel building is still not open for walk-ins, though all of their advocacy services can be accessed on the phone or virtually through their website. But transferring to a virtual setting for client services means a greater likelihood of abusers listening in. Now, the nonprofit is in the beginning steps of figuring out how to reopen it's doors to the general public and to walk-in clients.

With Seekhaven’s in-person doors currently closed, the Moab community’s efforts in identifying and reporting sexual assault and domestic abuse instances has become crucial.

“One of the biggest things that somebody can do is be a first responder,” said Taylor, who uses the term beyond emergency services to mean anyone who observes harm in the community.

“We all know somebody that is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault,” she continued. “A little, tiny bit of education to understand those signs and understand what services are available to that person can go a long way. As a business owner, employer, friend or family member, you very well may be the first person that hears that somebody was hurt and abused.”

Categorizing all Moab residents as potential “first responders” is the first step in a cultural, societal shift Taylor hopes Seekhaven can ignite. “So many people feel shame, so they disregard their own needs because they’ve been minimized. So that's one thing I want to see in this community: not minimizing someone else’s experience.”

Creating a culture of safety and acceptance when a victim reveals sensitive information, Taylor believes, is the first step towards a future where Seekhaven won’t be necessary.

“I look forward to one day not having to have these conversations,” she laughed. “We hope to one day work ourselves out of a job. We hope that one day, we won’t have to be around. But the likelihood of that happening anytime soon is not great.”

Until that day, Seekhaven will continue to provide free, confidential, accessible, no-judgment care to anyone who is currently experiencing or has experienced sexual or domestic abuse. In honor of their 30th anniversary, community members can donate to Seekhaven directly, or donate a percentage of their purchases at City Market or at Amazon (using Amazon Smile). In Taylor’s words, “they really add up.”

“We believe survivors and their stories will be safe with us,” she said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe.” Seekhaven now looks forward to 30 more years — hopefully less — of ensuring that same safety, acceptance and justice for Moab.