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Working to end domestic violence.


RESPOND is a pioneer in the movement to end domestic violence. Star Market has supported the work of this nonprofit through its GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.

Tell us about RESPOND.

RESPOND’s mission is to partner with individuals, families and communities to end the serious public health issue of domestic violence. We strive to achieve this mission through prevention, intervention and education services. Those three streams all work together to promote safe and healthy relationships and interrupt violence where it’s happening.

Today, it can be challenging for some individuals to acknowledge domestic violence and access services. We’re doing this work because it’s still very much needed.

We are the oldest domestic violence agency in New England and the second oldest in the nation. The organization was founded in the mid-1970s and started in a grassroots way. A group of four Somerville, Massachusetts, women came together to talk about something still considered a dirty family secret. Domestic violence happened in their homes and the homes of folks they cared about, and it wasn’t discussed. They started offering counseling and co-counseling sessions to support and begin healing. These women started leaving porch lights on as a sign that their home was safe, especially for those fleeing a violent situation. In 1974, these “founding mothers” formed RESPOND. The organization has provided life-saving shelter, support services, training and education programs to hundreds of thousands of community members for over 45 years.

Today, it can be challenging for some individuals to acknowledge domestic violence and access services. We’re doing this work because it’s still very much needed.

What services do you provide to the community?

Folks come when they’re facing imminent risk of continued abuse and homelessness. We’re responding to the community’s needs, so our programs could change over time. Today we have five basic programs, including our emergency family shelter, which remains the cornerstone of our work. This program also has a support and intake line to help people get services.

There is a community intervention and education program that offers both individual and group counseling. We bring curriculums into schools and businesses that talk to people of all ages about healthy relationships and supporting yourself, friends or loved ones that are experiencing abuse.

Our advocates are embedded in six police departments. Independent counselors are provided in the police station and follow up on every police call made in that community to offer third-party support. Prevention and intervention are tied together because you prevent further abuse when you intervene. You’re also sometimes breaking up generational cycles of abuse. Kiddos are not just witnessing; they’re experiencing the violence in their homes.

RESPOND has an advocate at the Suffolk County House of Correction working with detained or incarcerated survivors. Many incarcerated folks have experienced trauma, so we offer support services and help them make a release plan, so they’re not going back into a violent situation.

The housing programming is newer and growing. This is a program set up to provide rental assistance. We work with individuals on the various steps of their housing journey, from helping with housing applications and vouchers to providing rental services as people get settled. These are all the kinds of ways RESPOND says, “What do you need, and how can we help connect those dots?”

What sets you apart from other nonprofit organizations in your community?

Our area faces a real affordable housing crisis, as in most geographic regions. There are assistance opportunities to help people stay housed and combat housing insecurity. But we’re the only organization in our area specifically tailored to meet the needs of survivors.

Our approach is trauma-informed. There are many questions in seeking housing that are not safe to answer when filling out an application. Those escaping violence have different barriers; their abuser might have tanked their credit, or they might have had to break a lease because of violence. There are lots of other challenges that our team is equipped to help navigate.

We know abuse happens in all kinds of communities and all socioeconomic groups. Still, it is particularly hard for many who are already low income and facing financial challenges or people who are leaving one social class in order to leave a relationship and suddenly step into poverty to be safe. It’s hard to find housing with one grownup in the house, especially somebody who doesn’t have a steady income or has had that income interrupted by violence. There are many challenges in an already tough housing market.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

I love telling this beautiful story. We had a woman come who was referred through her doctor’s office. She had put her education on hold after accruing many school fees. When she left her abusive relationship, she suddenly became a single parent. She was trying to work, parent and get back on track so she could continue school. She was an excellent candidate for our rapid rehousing program, so she started to get rental assistance alongside counseling and support groups for emotional healing.

Her journey was so inspiring for all of us. It illustrates that with a bit of help, you can break through a cycle of abuse and become an amazing community member.

RESPOND provided her with rental assistance. We paid the first and last month’s rent and a couple of months after that. During that time of assistance, she paid off her school fees and saved some money while working. She was able to take over the lease and eventually go back to school and graduate with a degree in healthcare.

Her journey was so inspiring for all of us. It illustrates that with a bit of help, you can break through a cycle of abuse and become an amazing community member.

What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?

The pandemic was challenging, and we are proud of never having shut our doors. We ramped up our remote programming with things like virtual support groups, which turned out to be a huge success. People didn’t have to worry about transportation or childcare, so attendance was excellent. We were able to move counseling sessions to Zoom, and we made a lot more phone appointments.

The in-person care did continue; we had to depopulate our shelter into single-household apartments to ensure safe social distancing. But we continued to visit with the residents in person. The doorbell to the community service center still rang for people to walk in. We were just super safe and careful.

RESPOND is proud to have been able to stay as a constant resource for survivors during such a strange and challenging time. We were able to be there still, and a lot of that was made possible by our community support, like Star Market and the customers who shop there. We are grateful for all the help to make that possible.

What do you want people to know about RESPOND?

It’s important to remind folks that we serve all survivors of all genders, ages and races. Partnering with other community organizations to make sure that folks get culturally competent and relevant support is something we promote. We work with a language line if we don’t have in-house language or linguistic capacity to ensure that we are talking with survivors in the way they’re most comfortable.

RESPOND is a small agency, but we serve all folks and collaborate when it benefits the survivor.

How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Star Market GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?

The $670 and counting raised in the Star Market GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program has helped sustain all our programming. Especially right now, as we are all recovering from COVID and feeling the effects of inflation, we dedicate these funds to help folks with basic needs and necessities. RESPOND can provide food and gift cards, help with utilities and moving trucks and more. We’re grateful for this program.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Domestic violence is still so prevalent. One in four women, one in seven men and more than 50% of trans and gender nonconforming folks will experience domestic violence. It takes all of us to end this and to interrupt it for the next generation.

Something I love about the GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program is that it’s also giving folks a moment to think at the cash register about how they can interrupt violence. The dollars for bags is one interruption, and I hope folks will take it as a reminder that there are lots of ways that they can help keep families and communities safe.

Greta Hagen is Director of Philanthropy & Engagement at RESPOND.

Published January 5, 2023.