Jackson balances job at Advocates for Victims of Assault with love of outdoors
2013 has been a busy year for Amy Jackson.
While most years can be considered busy for the executive director of the local nonprofit Advocates for Victims of Assault, this year really defined the meaning of the term.
As the organization approached its 35th anniversary, Jackson worked with her colleagues to purchase and upgrade a house to serve as a shelter for its clients — female victims of domestic violence and abuse, and their children.
In the past, Advocates relied on a string of rentals to provide shelter, and many of which were of low quality.
“We found ourselves in really run down, very makeshift shelters,” Jackson said, “so we had been exploring the possibility of being able to purchase a shelter.”
The possibility suddenly became more real when Jackson learned of a funding opportunity available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development. After an arduous application process and lots of paperwork, the organization closed on its new property in April.
The work was just beginning, however, with all the hassles and challenges of moving and converting a nearby four-car garage into office space. Fortunately, the Summit County community stepped up and donations from several local businesses, and from a generous local family, provided furniture for the new building.
“(We) certainly couldn’t have taken on something like this without the support of the community,” Jackson said.
At the same time, Jackson and the Advocates’ Violence Prevention Team organized several sessions of countywide training on domestic violence. The sessions included members of law enforcement, 911 dispatch call takers, social service workers and district attorneys. The positive response from those involved encouraged Jackson and Advocates to plan to continue the trainings next year.
Recognition for Jackson’s efforts arrived in the fall. At the annual Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), held in Keystone, Jackson received the Deana Griswould Award for Outstanding Victim Advocates. The honor was a pleasant surprise for Jackson, whose colleagues had nominated her without her knowledge.
“Amy works behind the scenes to facilitate fair treatment for victims of domestic violence, developing and updating policies, working with law enforcement, attorneys, judges and treatment providers. She takes on difficult subjects with grace and respectfully gets resolution through thoughtful dialogue,” read one section of her nomination letter. “Amy seems to never be comfortable with the status quo and is constantly looking for ways to improve our community’s response to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Balancing work and pleasure
The job is a large, essential piece to any portrait of Jackson, but it is not the only one.
Sitting in her Advocates office, surrounded by bookshelves, computer and phone, Jackson can always spare a glance out of her single window to catch a glimpse of blue sky and snowy slopes. While inside she is executive director, counselor, co-worker and advocate, outside she is your typical adventure-hungry Summit County resident, eager to take advantage of the gorgeous surroundings.
Jackson is a Colorado transplant. Born in West Virginia, she spent one year at Ohio University before the call of the mountains lured her away. She relocated to Summit County in 1993, drawn by the natural beauty and the promise of skiing paradise. After graduating from Colorado Mountain College in the late ’90s, she commuted from Summit to Denver, where she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at the University of Denver.
During those years she supported herself with various jobs around the county, including working for the ski industry and at Goods in Breckenridge. Jackson jokes that many locals might know her better as the Goods shoe buyer than as executive director of Advocates.
When she arrived, Jackson volunteered with the Summit County Youth program. In 2003, she spent a year as a volunteer for Advocates, before moving into the clinical services coordinator position, while maintaining a private counseling business on the side. Several years later, she took over as director, the role in which she continues today.
Therapy and social work “just felt like a natural fit for me,” she said. Now, even as an administrator, she still works hands-on with clients, and is on call every four or five weeks, in case of emergency situations.
“I really like that, it’s a good balance,” she said. “As an administrator you can get so sucked into your paperwork and you forget that there’s human beings out there and that’s why we’re here. So be to be able to do both keeps me passionate about my job and the work that we do.”
While finalizing the new house is certainly a milestone of Jackson’s time with Advocates, she said that the most memorable moments have been interactions with clients — “seeing people come to us at that low point, and throughout the time that they’re with us, watching them regain a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem, getting to be a part of that process,” she said. “It’s almost just like you see that light, the switch, flip between this completely disempowered individual and to a very empowered individual, and watching that transformation — and particularly when there are children involved — and seeing how and knowing how that transformation will affect their lives. Having a parent who has made that journey from disempowered to empowered, by far that’s the most rewarding part of the job that we do and that I’ve been a part of over the years.”
Yet for every memorable moment Jackson reaches with a client, other moments require strength and perseverance to face, both for her and for the women she helps.
“With every new employee there’s always this transition. It’s almost like, your life before Advocates and your life after Advocates,” she said with a laugh, “because the things we get exposed to really do change the way you see the world.”
No matter how much you’ve read or seen on television, it’s not enough to prepare for the immediate reality of a domestic violence victim sitting right in front of you, Jackson said. You can’t help but be affected.
“So we do a lot of training on secondary trauma, boundaries, (like) ‘How do I sit with somebody who’s in an incredibly painful place in their life and not take on that pain, not get lost in that pain with them?’” Jackson said. “Because I am here as a helper, and if I am taking on their pain, too much of their pain, I really stop being of use. So it’s a skill to learn how I distance myself — not entirely, because I need to know what this is like for them — but how I distance myself in a way that I can stay helpful.
“And it’s hard. Some people can do it and some people can’t. And some days you can do it and some days you can’t, and that’s true for me after 10 years. Some situations just get to you, and that’s OK.”
The key, Jackson said, is the right amount of distance, and balance. “Because my life is not their life, and I want to be able to go home and chill and read a book or take my dog out and go for a mountain bike ride and enjoy the life that I have, and not get so absorbed in an unhealthy way in our client’s lives. It really is a skill.”
So far, Jackson has managed to strike that magical balance between work and play, helping others at her job and exploring the backcountry with her beloved rescue dog Henry on the weekends.
At the very end of the interview, she reflected with a smile.
“Life is good.”
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