Denise Yoxsimer has been director of the Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW) for about four years. Before that she has been a sought-after executive and development person in public television, health care and other areas. This week CAAW will be announcing some new efforts.

Tell me about new programs.

We are right on the cusp of announcing a major expansion to our transitional housing program. Our board went through a strategic planning process a couple of years ago and determined that there were some better uses for some of our existing facilities in real estate. In addition to that, in doing some community surveys about greatest community needs, we saw that there was a much greater need for transitional housing in our community that we were currently able to provide. So we made a decision to convert a CAAW-owned apartment complex that we have been operating just as a kind of general landlord for the community, to convert that complex to use for transition housing for domestic violence survivors and their families. Our current TH program is offered at a facility in the community that [has] seven one-bedroom apartment units. We are now going to be able to add 12 units to the seven, nearly tripling our capacity. … But even more significantly, all of the 12 units are two-bedroom/two-bathroom, which will enable us a much greater opportunity to serve larger families, which has been a huge need. Having just the one-bedroom units has been tremendous for our clients, but not always appropriate if you have, you know, a mother and two teenaged kids of either gender. It’s just not enough space. So our board made this commitment. We’ve gone out to the community and we’ve raised just under $700,000 on almost a million-dollar project to do the renovations needed. … And that million-dollar budget will also include a repair and maintenance fund, which will help with our ongoing sustainability for this project, because of course, the rents that we will charge to our transitional housing residents who live at the expanded facility are not market rate and we need to be very careful about how we fund repair and maintenance as we go forward. … When we were doing the research trying to determine whether or not to undertake this project, we looked back five years to the poll of clients who have resided in our emergency shelter and we determined that up to 72 families a year would be eligible for out transitional program if we had the capacity to provide them with that level of shelter. … The other big announcement that we’re going to be making on Thursday that we’re really excited about—and it’s kind of secret, but if this comes out on Thursday, we’re good— we have entered into a partnership with an organization called Noah’s Animal House. So we will be announcing on Thursday that we will be building an animal shelter to reside on the same grounds with the transitional housing project to help support domestic violence survivors and their families who have pets and who frequently don’t leave abusive situations because they don’t want to leave a pet. And it’s very common that for some in a domestic violence relationship—I mean, leaving a pet is very similar to the thought of having to leave a child behind, you know. It’s a huge obstacle to leaving a difficult situation, and we are thrilled to be partnering with Noah’s.

There’s a sign in your lobby headed, “Are you or someone you know having suicidal thoughts?” Does the nature of your work ever get you down?

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sometimes get to me. You know, we deal with individuals who are going through the most intense trauma, probably, they have ever gone through. Or, for many others, they’re going through a trauma that they’ve going through routinely again and again and again. … But I have to say, yes, it can get to me, but I don’t deal with clients every single day. I mean, the advocates, our front line advocates on staff who work at the shelter, transitional housing, the programs here at the Vassar Street office, those are the ones I’m more concerned about who can experience this kind of vicarious trauma. You know, you just kind of relive the stories that you hear again and again. Just last week we had a staff meeting and there was a psychologist from UNR who very generously donated her time to kind of talk to our staff, not only the staff that provides work here at Vassar Street but also the four who staff the Temporary Protection Order Office. We all came together and talked about some of those issues and how we can learn to do a better job at self-care, how we can learn different techniques—leave it here and go home and kind of set aside some of the stresses of this work so that we don’t all burn out after doing this for a short period of time. But yes, it’s tough. It can be really tough. But the rewards can be incredible. I’ve got a little note. … This is a little girl that I actually had the privilege of meeting. She’s eight years old and this is a copy of a note that she wrote to her mom. She says, “I’m pretty sure every kid wants you to be their mom.” I mean, as a mother, it just melted my heart. “You do a lot of things perfect.” And then this was really—“You made a really good choice coming here to Reno.” … Those kind of things, when we see this and we know we’re making a difference every day. We don’t always get to see it, but when we see things like that, it’s hard not to come back and give it another go, for sure.

That was really what I meant when I asked you earlier about staff turnover. It sounds like you have been really fortunate, being able to hang onto people.

I think so.

Avatar photo

Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...