Good morning, folks! And welcome to … Michele Booth Cole, Executive Director of Safe Shores. With a child-friendly and welcoming approach, Safe Shores (the DC Children’s Advocacy Center) ensures that abused children’s voices are heard in criminal investigations, their needs are placed first, and a safe space is available to them.
1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?
In April 2011, we held a series of free community trainings for adults on child sexual abuse prevention in different wards throughout DC in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Safe Shores partnered with DC Council members Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) Jack Evans (Ward 2), Jim Graham (Ward 1), and Phil Mendelson (At-large), DCPS Parent Resource Centers in Wards 1 and 7, and Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Ward 4, all of whom co-sponsored the trainings to raise awareness about this critical public health and safety issue. The trainings were attended by a really diverse and engaged group of community members who learned how to recognize, respond to and prevent child sexual abuse pursuant to the “Stewards of Children” curriculum.
2. What else are you up to?
After six years of working, we finally completed the renovation and furnishing of Safe Shores’ new home at the former Bundy building. We moved into the newly renovated space last year along with the partners from our public and private Team agencies. Safe Shores’ Board and staff are now energetically engaged in strategic planning to chart Safe Shores’ course for the future. In addition, we’ve recently adopted the Benevon fundraising model to increase the organization’s long-term financial sustainability by expanding our base of individual supporters.
3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?
In college, I volunteered with the One-to-One (mentoring) program. There was a seven-year old little girl, Gladys; and I was assigned as her “big sister” for two years. On Saturdays, I would catch the bus from Cambridge to Inman Square where she lived and then we’d go to museums, local historic sites like the Freedom Trail, movies, or back to campus to eat in the dining hall. Spending time with Gladys, learning about her reality and sharing part of mine ignited a desire to serve and do to what I could to make a difference in the lives of others, especially children. It was hands-down the best and most meaningful part of my college experience.
4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?
It isn’t just one person, but every individual in the nonprofit/philanthropic world who approaches service, servant-leadership, and giving with humility and perspective — and finds a way to make the world better in their own way. I admire and appreciate individuals who respect the dignity of those they seek to help and don’t confuse helping with saving, who readily encourage and share the benefit of their experience with others in the sector, who are willing to learn from anyone, and who set an example of healthy self-care rather than sacrificial service (it matters in terms of sustainability of the person and the sector). And finally, people who are impeccable in their word.
5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?
Convincing people that Safe Shores’ work is necessary, that child abuse is real, the children need to be heard, that abuse doesn’t just happen to certain children — and that the comprehensive, coordinated, and compassionate response of the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) model is a critical, non-negotiable community need that not only helps not only children and families but makes government work more effectively. Safe Shores also is constantly working to raise awareness about the fact that child abuse, an underreported crime, is far more prevalent than people want to think (1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18 years old).
We know that there’s hope in timely and appropriate intervention and that child victims can heal. However, as a community we have to recognize that child abuse is a public health and safety issue with devastating and costly long-term implications when it goes unaddressed, and that the Team-based approach Safe Shores employs is the most effective way we have of addressing the issue.
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?
First, be clear on your priorities — how you use your time and energy will flow from that. Second, listen, listen, and listen some more. Third, develop a support network. Fourth, keep learning — go to conferences, trainings, workshops and networking events, and take time to read. For example, check out The Four Agreements (Ruiz), The Charismatic Organization (Sagawa/Jospin), The Challenge of Change (Coltoff). Not quite last and definitely not least, take care of yourself because the work can be consuming if you let it. Finally, have fun and keep looking up!
7. What’s next?
Stream of consciousness — Continuing to drill down on outcomes and how to measure success. Summer, Summer, Summertime!. Working smarter. Pursuing good health. Building a more sustainable organization. Budgeting. Summer vacation. More time with the family. Board development. School’s out! Implementing our strategic plan. Continuing to invest in the organization’s most important asset: people. Focusing on what really matters. A good night’s sleep. Waking up with joy and a sense of limitless possibilities. Seeding hope each day. Gratefulness.
EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?
My paternal grandmother, Georgia Morris Booth, who’s deceased, and was a tremendous servant-leader and faith warrior.
WEB DuBois because I’d like to hear his impressions about developments in the US and the world leading up to and in the Obama era.
And my husband, Jerome, because he’s smart and insightful, and we’d be able to talk about the breakfast for years to come.