The Power of Relationships: Reflections of a Domestic Violence Advocate

Vivian Lee

I am very honored to work for Little Tokyo Service Center, a multi-purpose social service agency in downtown Los Angeles. My colleagues and I are like one big family and we are very supportive of one another. Hearing about office politics from my friends at other agencies, I feel I could not ask for a better place to work.

The work is challenging, don’t get me wrong. I was invited to join the social services department management team approximately three years ago. All of a sudden, I was exposed to staffing issues, funding cuts, and supervision challenges, just to name a few challenges. My background is in social work, and I have almost NO training in management. Sometimes I feel incompetent and doubt if I have the knowledge to make good decisions. But I understand as a member of the management team I’m expected to pick up responsibility and become a leader in the department, so I am continuing to learn.

In my efforts to learn, I am very excited and humbled to join Cohort 3 of the Strong Field Project to End Domestic Violence (DV) Leadership Development Program. The intensive 4-day kick off meeting was held this past June in the beautiful beach town of Aptos, CA. It was wonderful to meet the participants -- all dedicated advocates from across California. While we have different backgrounds, we are working for the same reason: to end violence. A lot of the time you can feel like you are alone in this work, but in fact we are not. I am looking forward to learning with them about the skills and knowledge to become a stronger leader and more competent manager. It is very empowering and encouraging.

There are six cohort members from Southern California including myself. We were eager to get together again after the kick-off and before our next program gathering in the fall. This July, we had lunch in Manhattan Beach to carry on the beach theme. We talked about the program, our challenges at work, difficult supervisees, funding updates, and learned more about each other. Because we all have different experiences, I can learn from my colleagues in the cohort and how they are approaching their work. Learning from their challenges helps me handle challenges at my own organization. Thanks to the Strong Field Project, the Southern California DV advocates are a much closer group today. Before saying goodbye, we made plans to meet (at the beach) again!  

While I knew some of my fellow cohort members before joining the program, the Strong Field Project presents an opportunity to further strengthen and solidify our relationships. I now have a network of people I can connect with at convenings for domestic violence advocates. For instance, five of the Cohort 3 members attended the "Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence" national DV summit in San Francisco this past July. We were able to gather during lunchtime and catch up with each other. It always feels good to connect with dedicated advocates working to end gender violence. And it was another great get together with my Cohort 3 members!

Also, when I was lost in the process of selecting a personal coach, I checked in with my cohort peers to share our experiences of interviewing coaches. I have never had a coach before, but when I talked to my peers about it, it was comforting to know I was not the only person who is doing something new. When I hear their struggles about staff issues and time management, I know I am not alone. When a program audit came up, I shared with my fellow cohort members and in return I received much useful advice and emotional support. Right now, some of my cohort members and I are talking about changes in our funding sources. We are planning to work together to let funders know how the changes are working or not working. Whenever I feel like we have to advocate for the needs of the DV population, I know whom I can go to and partner with for a stronger voice.

Now the sense of community I feel at my own agency has expanded to the wider domestic violence community. Today, I am well supported by my colleagues at work, my peers in the Strong Field Project, and my personal coach -- and I have the opportunity to learn effective leadership skills. I have more confidence that I will grow into a strong leader and competent manager. And most of all, I am grateful to all of you who are going through this journey with me to end gender violence.

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