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TESSA: 

Not just safe, but self-sufficient

click to enlarge Moving to - the Myron Stratton campus has allowed TESSA executive director - Michelle Valdez to double its capacity.
  • Moving to the Myron Stratton campus has allowed TESSA executive director Michelle Valdez to double its capacity.
Heading south on Nevada, past the Lake Avenue exit, at the top of a hill on the left sits the Myron Stratton Home campus. Passing under the black metal archway, a remarkable stillness settles around you. The grounds are unassuming, immaculate, with buildings spread here and there across the swells of hills.

The city's growth, as it's spilled across the surrounding plains, seems not to have noticed the complex. The permanence provides reassurance, muffling the chaos immediately outside.

For nearly 100 years, the Myron Stratton Home -- in keeping with the wishes of its benefactor, a wealthy gold prospector named Winfield Scott Stratton -- has provided housing and assistance to the underprivileged elderly community.

A few years back, the board chairs and the executive director of the Myron Stratton Home began approaching various nonprofits in the area. Their goal was to fulfill another aspect of Stratton's vision. As executive director Mark Turk puts it, to assist "poor, single mothers with young kids."

Their search led to Partners in Housing. Dedicated to supporting homeless families with children, Partners in Housing has enhanced the classrooms for their life skills training programs and added 12 new apartment complexes since relocating to the Myron Stratton Home campus.

It also led to Peak Vista Community Health Centers. Its move to the Stratton campus puts medical aid directly in the hands of those who often need it most, namely Partners in Housing and Myron Stratton's clients.

Finally, the search led to TESSA.

Formerly the Center for Prevention of Domestic Violence, TESSA has fought for over 30 years in the Colorado Springs area to protect women and children from sexual and family violence. The organization has adapted its services and grown in an effort to confront these issues from every front.

Indeed, until the representatives of the Myron Stratton Home approached TESSA, the agency had developed beyond its means. Originally a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, today TESSA provides legal, emotional and material assistance while simultaneously educating the community to help end acts of sexual and family violence.

"The bottom line," says Turk, "is that with TESSA coming [to the campus], it has doubled the capacity of their programs and services."

But, since the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence are so complex, TESSA has the opportunity to do far more than simply increase its existing services.

The challenge

TESSA's relationship with the community is uniquely organic. In response to concern over increasing reports of violence against women, several leaders in the community, including the local district attorney and the El Pomar Foundation, addressed the situation by opening a shelter for abused women.

As TESSA began to look at domestic violence, the organization noticed that few people in town were willing to publicly admit that a problem even existed. Today, due to the combined efforts of TESSA, the DA's office, the police and other nonprofit agencies, it's easier for the community to discuss the problem and -- more importantly -- harder to ignore it.

"We are doing a lot more work around community organizing now than we've ever done before," says Valdez. "We want people taking ownership of this issue -- stepping up and saying, "We won't accept this.'"

Yet acts of violence in our community persist. According to its Web site, the number of crisis contacts TESSA received in 2006 more than tripled that of 2003. Valdez attributes TESSA's increase in clients in part to a heightened awareness of available services, but also acknowledges that there is still a serious problem.

Part of the problem: For all the prevention and immediate crisis intervention work it does, TESSA hasn't had the infrastructure to provide client services on a long-term basis. Valdez says clients often cite a lack of affordable health care and housing in explaining why they can't permanently leave an abusive relationship.

"For TESSA, part of getting a person out of a crisis situation may entail linking in with services from Partners in Housing," says Turk.

Frank Stampf, executive director for Partners in Housing, says his organization and TESSA have been working together for years.

"If a person goes into TESSA as a victim of domestic abuse," Stampf explains, "when they're ready to go out and start over again, it's pretty common for TESSA to refer those clients over to our program."

With the organizations being on the same campus, fewer of the people coming in for help are slipping through cracks in services. Both Partners in Housing and Peak Vista have expressed to Valdez that they now find it easier to identify and recommend clients who can benefit from TESSA's assistance.

"In the past, we've made our clients come first to our offices," Valdez says. "Then we send them somewhere else, then somewhere else. It is our hope now that we can literally just walk them across the courtyard."

It is hard to tell how long it will take for the consortium of organizations to establish a fully functional relationship. Partners in Housing opened the doors to its new facility only weeks ago, and TESSA is still in the process of transferring its residential programs to the campus.

For now, Valdez has several quantifiable goals that TESSA is working on, at times with the help of the other organizations. For example, TESSA is leading the charge in urging the city to provide adequate public transportation to the Myron Stratton campus.

click to enlarge With TESSA, Partners in Housing and Peak Vista, the campus is a safe place.
  • With TESSA, Partners in Housing and Peak Vista, the campus is a safe place.
Internally, Valdez is pushing for her organization to really take advantage of client feedback so that the people in need of aid are deciding how they are best served. She also envisions a grassroots campaign that would allow the community to take ownership of these problems; perhaps, she suggests, a proactive campaign of sending advocates into the community, instead of waiting for individuals to seek help.

That scenario, says Valdez, "would be a huge shift from what we've done in the past."

Luckily, adaptation is what TESSA does best.

- newsroom@csindy.com

  • Not just safe, but self-sufficient

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