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Collaborating for SAAM and Beyond: Partnerships are key!

The Committee Against Domestic Abuse Inc. (CADA) and Violence Awareness & Response Program (VARP) at the University of Minnesota – Mankato have been partners for some time now. For SAAM this year they joined forces again to co-host events throughout the month. For CADA’s Executive Director Jason Mack and VARP’s Assistant Director Laura Schultz, collaborating was a no brainer—it just makes sense because they can work even better together!

The goal of this post is to show that community collaboration is one of our best tools in preventing sexual violence. Together we can be the change we want to see in our communities! Below is a brief interview with Laura and Jason about collaboration and its benefits, not only for their organizations, but for victims/survivors and their community as a whole.

Why did you decide to partner for SAAM?

Jason:  “Fortunately, VARP has been a great partner of CADA for many years. We’ve worked together on many things over time, so partnering for SAAM events was almost a given. I think it is important to acknowledge all of the hard work that VARP has done to contribute to the partnership. Many of this year’s events were planned by them and students associated with them. Because they are such great partners, they always include CADA as the local community advocacy agency. It has been a privilege for us to be a part of events with them.  As a part of the process, we also approached Laura about an event idea we had which morphed into a shared event based on some thoughts she had. The whole process is usually pretty organic in that manner. That said, I think the “why” behind it all is quite simple: we work better together. We understand and acknowledge the important role that each agency plays, and we do our best to work together because it has a beneficial impact for victims/survivors and the community as a whole.”

Laura: “As Jason says, we’ve been working together for many years, because it only makes sense! We’re advocating for the same folks, we have very similar missions, and we know that in working together, we can reach more folks with these important events and messages. It’s so important to connect with folks who are doing this work, as it can be easy to feel in some ways bogged down or misunderstood by other institutions. I recently had an advocate from CADA come into the class I teach about Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy on MSU’s campus, and she and I were discussing the way it is so important to remember that each agency with whom victims and survivors interact has its own agenda. When we are aware of that reality, and aware of the organizations whose missions most closely align to our own, we can better help victims and survivors navigate those systems.”

What are the benefits of collaborating and partnering?

Jason: “As noted, our partnership ensures that we have a strong relationship which directly translates to better services for our community. Additionally, I think collaboration ensures that our events are robust and inclusive of various populations in our community. Of course local college students are one of the most important [populations] for us to have included in these events, and VARP is great about working to engage students and share information about CADA’s services as well. From CADA’s perspective, collaborative events are the best because they are more engaging for the community.”

Laura: “The benefits to victims and survivors are notes above, and the benefits surrounding the events are related to the folks we are able to reach. For example, in the event that Jason mentioned, VARP’s students and interns identify speakers like professors and fellow students who they think would be a good fit, while CADA advocates can share information about folks in the community, like judges, police officers, and others. This makes for a more representative event and hopefully includes more folks deserving of recognition about whom our students or staff may not be aware.

One way I’ve described the benefits of collaborating in the past, when presenting with a previous CADA advocate at a conference is as follows: College campus staff who respond to survivors of sexual violence and community-based sexual assault advocates are an underrated match. Community and campus-based advocates can create mutually beneficial relationships; which ultimately provide a superior response for survivors of college campus sexual violence. Whether it be teaming up to provide survivors a continuum of services from a professor notification letter, to reporting to police or campus officials, to assistance with filling out an Order for Protection (OFP), to finding shelter for nontraditional students – utilizing both campus and community resources provides the best resources to survivors. The benefits also extend beyond direct services. This partnership also allows for joint planning of community events such as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) events, stronger sexual assault response teams (SARTs), and even provides the groundwork for diverse prevention approaches in your community. Collaborations like these bridge the community/campus gap for survivors and can create successful projects such as the Safe Bar Initiative, a community primary prevention effort to reduce sexual violence in liquor serving establishments.”

How did the partnership start? Do you have any tips on how to create community collaborations and partnerships?

Jason: “I’m hoping that Laura can speak a little more on this as she’s been with VARP longer than I’ve been [with] CADA. In terms of creating community collaborations and partnerships, I think a really good place to start is at the intersections of missions and work. When agencies have missions or work that they do which intersect in some manner, then you have a common goal. As soon as you have a common goal you have clear impetus to work together. It truly is about working smart as opposed to hard sometimes. I think if you go into a potential partnership with an idea of a shared vision and an open mind, you can develop the rest from there. That method will allow for an organic or grounded approach in which each partner can contribute to the shared work/direction. ”

Laura: “I have been working as the Assistant Director of the Violence Awareness & Response Program for the last seven years, and throughout that time, I’ve been happy to partner with different folks at CADA. Some of the highlights have been presenting at CADA’s 40 hour training, having CADA representatives present in our class and at our events, my being able to co-create Southern MN’s Safe Bar Initiative with a CADA advocate, co-leading sexual assault support groups with CADA advocates, and much more. Our partnership provides more strength for our own work and emotional health, and bolsters our clients’/students’ support systems.”

What do each of you hope to gain from SAAM this year?

Jason: “CADA has a few overall hopes: 1. To increase awareness about the issues. 2. To bring new faces to our events and engage folks that haven’t always engaged. 3. Increase awareness about services available to victims/survivors in our community.”

Laura: “SAAM really highlights the work we do year round, it’s kind of an elevated version of what I hope to do all the time through VARP: Make sure that student victims/survivors feel heard and supported, and imagine and work toward a world without violence through education and programming.”