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20 years on DSVS continues to educate and help

Thursday, August 15, 2019
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Photo by Alastair Baker
A 20th Anniversary event to honor the achievements of DSVS was held Aug. 9 at the home of Mitzi and Jim Vorachek in Red Lodge. The DSVS staff is, back row, left to right: Kelsiann Helsley (Violence Prevention Educator and Mentor Program Director), Laura Bailey (Communications and Outreach Coordinator); Ashley Novakovich (Licensed Clinical Social Worker); Joanne Handley (Transitional Services Coordinator); Hayden Ramsey (Office Coordinator). Middle row, left to right: Anna Drew (Systems Coordinator and Volunteer Program Manager); Amanda LaPlante (Finance Director); Kelly Carter (Direct Services Advocate, Stillwater Office); Kate Croft (Direct Services Manager). Front row, left to right: Mitzi Vorachek (DSVS Founder); Kelly Heaton (DSVS Executive Director). For more photos of the event please turn to page 2.

By Alastair Baker

News Editor


At times it has been a long, arduous road but after 20 years of striving there are signs that the message of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) that intimate partner violence, whether physical or mental, is quite simply and unequivocally not acceptable has gotten through.

In its time, DSVS has changed public perception within Carbon County towards partner, family and spousal abuse and created bridges of cooperation with law enforcement and prosecutors to make a victim’s passage to safety smooth as possible. The organization operates an all-volunteer-run, confidential 24-hour helpline, and provides safe shelter, emergency financial help, cell phones, and meals to help victims through those emotionally shredding first few days.

DSVS partners with Red Lodge Fire and Rescue to provide sexual assault survivors with free transportation to clinics providing Sexual Assault Nurse Examinations (SANE). DSVS has also created a bridge to future generations via the highly-successful, Power Up, Speak Out! Developed by DSVS, the lessons teach middle school students the fundamentals of healthy relationships. The program reaches students in 15 states with almost 200 teachers providing lessons to over 8,000 students. DSVS also oversees a youth mentoring program that matches adults with Red Lodge middle school and high school students.               

If the generational chain of violence and abuse is to be broken, DSVS is providing the tools to do it.   However, 20 years ago things were very different and very difficult.

“There were no local services for domestic and sexual violence survivors,” said Mitzi Vorachek, founder of DSVS.

Vorachek admits she came to the Red Lodge area as a retiree just planning to hike and help out at the Carbon County Arts Guild, but an unmet need to provide support for domestic violence victims caught her attention instead.  

Having worked at the Houston Area Women’s Center for more than a decade, Vorachek was in a position to help, and at the request of the Billings YWCA she met with the staff at the local Office of Public Assistance (OPA). They’d asked for training because they were seeing a rise in domestic violence. Vorachek assumed the OPA would send victims to the Billings shelter, but instead they called her. 

“The first one I talked to was a woman sent to a rental house in the middle of the county. They wanted to get her far away from her abuser. She had three kids and came from a town with less than 100 people.  I suggested she go to Billings and she said it was hard enough to come to a big city like Red Lodge. She was terrified of huge towns,” said Vorachek.

The meeting was an eye opener, and Vorachek realized that domestic violence victims in rural areas have vastly different needs than the victims she’d encountered in her leadership role at the Houston Area Women’s Center. She reached out to local churches, which provided space for her to meet victims. By the end of 1999, Vorachek had established a helpline and served eight clients.

In the years that followed, the number of clients continued to grow, and Vorachek continued as volunteer as executive director. Then, at a Rotary meeting, she met Allison Smith-Estelle, who had worked at the Rape Crisis Program at Brown University. The two women joined forces, and DSVS received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smith-Estelle stepped in and established primary prevention programs and a coordinated community response team, the first of its kind in Carbon County.

“In 2004 we held a volunteer training and I said, ‘if we get two it’ll be a success’ and 14 people came. We were just shocked. It was magnificent. One of them is still volunteering,” Vorachek said.

In 2005, DSVS moved from Vorachek’s home into a 2nd floor office above the Red Lodge Book Store. The number of clients DSVS served continued to climb, but Vorachek realized in those early years that to make a difference, public outreach was needed, and she and Smith-Estelle conducted hundreds of programs for various local service groups, church leaders, medical professionals, first responders, law enforcement and judges. Area youth were also targeted with rape-prevention programs. 

In 2007, Vorachek was forced to step back in her capacity with the first of her three episodes of metastasized cancer, but she continued to work within the organization. Smith-Estelle took over as executive director, and under her leadership, DSVS received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to begin developing Power Up, Speak Out!

A big boost to DSVS funding came in 2008 with the first Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) through the US Department of Justice. To this day, VAWA has continued to allow DSVS to provide its services to victims of domestic and sexual violence.  

“The creation of the office of Violence Against Women in the Justice Department was a game changer. I don’t think they went to rural areas for a while and it has totally changed how rural areas can fight this battle,” Vorachek said.

Kelly Heaton, who joined the staff in 2011, was hired as executive director in 2013. Under Heaton’s leadership, DSVS partnered with ASPEN, the women’s shelter in Livingston, to provide financial assistance to survivors in Park, Meagher, and Sweet Grass counties, expanded SANE transport to Stillwater County, and DSVS began offering free professional therapy. Last year, DSVS opened an office in Columbus with a dedicated advocate on-site to serve survivors in Stillwater County.

In 2018, a record 202 clients were served. That increase hinges on a variety of factors but can be attributed primarily to DSVS raising awareness in the community. 

“It is still incredibly hard for people to come here and admit they need help, but when they do, they feel very supported here. We don’t tell people what to do or what they should do. We talk to them and listen and try to empower them,” Heaton said. 

Through the years, DSVS has worked hard to uphold the trust of those that come to them.

“I think people know we are confidential. If we don’t have that we don’t have anything. No one would come. That is the biggest bedrock of this organization, and leads to people in the community respecting that,” said Heaton.

One of DSVS’s biggest successes in partnerships is with law enforcement. In incidents of partner-family member assault arrests, law enforcement provides the victim with contact information for DSVS and also contacts DSVS with the victim’s contact information. 

“When we tell officers about this program, they are happy that they can refer these victims, who are really distraught,” Heaton said. 

Heaton credits Vorachek with the success of DSVS, as well as the staff that works by her side every day. 

“She is the whole reason we are what we are. She is the constant,” said Heaton. “I feel really blessed to surround myself with a great staff that are highly trained, passionate, caring, and have an incredible work ethic. With people of this caliber, it is easy to lead.”

The community and its unwavering support has also played an important role in the success of DSVS. Since DSVS was founded 20 years ago it has served more than 2,400 people.

“No one does this work alone, it needs a lot of people. Yes, we get federal funding and help from private foundations, but we really couldn’t have done this without the community, people have been so supportive for years and years and years,” Vorachek said.

DSVS is located at 1119 S. Broadway, P.O. Box 314, Red Lodge. Office: (406) 446-2296. Office hours: Mon – Fri 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Stillwater Office 407 N. A Street, Columbus.   

To view the DSVS Timeline please  Click here