Local family crisis and resource center Seekhaven has grown immensely over the past three years under the leadership of Executive Director Maddy Fisk. The center had eight people on staff and operated on a $544,000 budget when she started. Today, the center has 18 fulltime employees and a $1.5 million budget.
Fisk is now moving on from the organization, and into the very large shoes she left will step Abi Taylor, who enters the directorship after being promoted to deputy executive director last year.
Taylor brings three years of experience with the organization and a generations-long bond to Moab. Taylor, a member of the same Taylor family that owns and operates The Times-Independent, outlined some of her top priorities as Seekhaven’s new executive director in an interview with the newspaper and described some of the observations she has made in her role working directly with local families and individuals in crisis.
The T-I: What is your first order of business?
Taylor: My main goal is to stabilize our current programming and fortify our working relationships with the first responders in our community.
Seekhaven’s services are client-led, meaning individuals must initiate services on their own terms and decide which direction to take. This, along with the consistent confidentiality, is the foundation of sound advocacy.
Other agencies often serve as the first responders to acute situations and, ideally, connect survivors to us for follow up support. Multidisciplinary partnerships are crucial to ensure survivors receive holistic, supportive services, while minimizing re-traumatization.
We partner with the Moab Police, Blanding Police, San Juan County Sheriff and Moab Valley Multicultural Center on the Lethality Assessment Program. We recently had preliminary discussions with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office on future implementation.
We are also collaborating with other agencies to develop a trauma-informed coordinated response to acute sexual violence. Moab Regional Hospital, Victims Assistance Unit, Children’s Justice Center and law enforcement are partnering with us on this.
T-I: How have Seekhaven’s operations changed amid the pandemic?
Taylor: We are limiting in-person appointments and providing tele-advocacy services to outreach clients. Our prevention programming, financial empowerment curriculum and support group is now offered virtually. We are also limiting the number of individuals in our emergency shelter and arrange off-site accommodations to limit physical proximity and mitigate spread of the coronavirus.
T-I: Reporting from national news outlets has indicated that domestic violence has become more prevalent amid the pandemic. Is such an effect taking place locally?
So far this year, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition tracked 23 domestic violence-related deaths in our state. While I do not have quantitative data to provide on this topic, I can say our services have become more in-depth for many clients.
We are improving outreach efforts to those experiencing increased domestic violence at this time. I would love to see any data from the Moab Police Department and Grand County Sheriff’s Office on domestic responses during the pandemic.
T-I: What are the overlooked impacts the pandemic is having in our community that you have seen through your work?
The emotional and mental wellness may be overlooked. So many people are afraid of contracting the virus, and others are struggling financially. We have many dedicated organizations in our community that are filling in the gaps.
The COVID-19 Housing Relief Fund, Moab Solutions, Moab Valley Multicultural Center, WabiSabi and Full Circle Intertribal Center are all doing incredible work to minimize the additional barriers created by the pandemic. I am so proud to be a part of this community.
T-I: What kind of relationship does Seekhaven have with local law enforcement? How and when do you interact with those organizations?
As I mentioned earlier, our local law enforcement agencies are often the first responders to acute domestic violence or sexual assault situations. It is my obligation to our community and local survivors to ensure we can collaborate. Our relationship is crucial to provide holistic support to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community.
Chief [Bret] Edge has been a great support over the years, and I look forward to establishing a relationship with Sheriff [Steve] White.
T-I: What are the key problems or strengths you see of the police and sheriff’s office?
Our clients can sometimes be fearful or distrustful of law enforcement agencies. Seekhaven does not force or coerce our clients into collaborating with other agencies and often provide services without any interaction with law enforcement.
Alternatively, many survivors are intercepted by law enforcement but do not receive services from Seekhaven. This is why fortifying our partnerships is so important. While we cannot provide personally identifiable information in meetings, we get to provide education, push for trauma-informed procedures and become more trusted in the referral process.