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Women’s Shelter gets new director~ RH April 17, 2015

Women’s Shelter gets new director
By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli
Staff Writer | April 17, 2015

For years, Avaloy Lanning has been charting new paths for victims of oppression and abuse.

And now in her new role as executive director of the Rutland County Women’s Network & Shelter, she hopes to again help women and men forge new lives by giving them the power to change their lives.

“We work from an empowerment model,” Lanning said. “We meet people where they are. We never assume they need something and over time their needs evolve. But being able to ask for what they want is empowering.”

Prior to her March 23 start at RCWNS, Lanning was head of the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless. But much of her work has been in New York City, fighting against human trafficking as the senior director of Safe Horizons Anti-Trafficking Program.

“A lot of my work was focused on legislative issues, and I spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “I am really ready to do more grassroots work.”

The former RCWNS director, Marianne Kennedy, left her position last September. In the interim, the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the federally recognized program that assists state efforts, provided support in Rutland.

“It takes a long time to recruit an executive director,” said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont network. “It easily takes six months. We did a national search. And we are so pleased to have Avaloy. She is a well-established nonprofit leader who understands the challenges.”

Lanning said coming to Vermont feels like home, despite her many years in New York.

“I’m a fifth-generation Texan, I come from rural Texas, from Zephyr,” she said. “We had visited here and I said, if I could stick a pin on the map as to where I want to live, it would be Vermont.”

Whether urban or rural, domestic violence and sexual abuse issues cross all socioeconomic groups, Lanning said, and during the past year RCWNS has worked with women and men of all ages.

“The people we are working with right now spans all ages. We have people from their very early 20s to their 60s,” she said. “Our first concern is always safety. Everyone needs a safety plan. And then some might need mental health services, some might need substance abuse services and some might need employment help.”

The shelter has five full-time staff, including Lanning, and she hopes to add a youth advocate soon.

While the name of the network and shelter refers to women, Lanning made it clear that it also serves men.

“We do get calls from men who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence,” she said. “We are a resource for men as well. More and more men are coming forward.”

RCWNS plays several roles in the community, including education, advocacy, case management and sheltering women and their children. In 2014 it recorded 2,043 shelter bed nights, (the number of nights a woman stayed), sheltering 23 women and 16 children. It is the only domestic violence shelter in the county.

“We can serve up to seven families at one time,” Lanning said. “Housing can be one year to 18 months; each situation is different. But the stays are getting longer because of the lack of affordable housing.”

Calls come to the network in many ways, but one of the newer developments is the close connection with police.

“The police now have a lethality screening tool, they can assess who is in most danger of being killed,” she said. “Ninety-four percent of those killed in domestic violence had one or more contacts with police. This is change in mindset.”

Lanning said she is pleased to see the success of Project VISION and RCWNS has a staff member at the police department several days a week.

“Officers will come up to me and take me to victims’ homes,” said Jenn Firpo, legal coordinator and systems advocate. “I also do family court hearings on Friday mornings.”

Lanning said the sooner her staff can get involved with the victim, the more assistance they can offer.

“Abusers are incredibly controlling and the victims have a lack of control,” she said. “We are here to help them learn how to navigate life.”

Avaloy Lanning, executive director of the Rutland County Women’s Network & Shelter, works in her office Thursday.



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