I arrived at Middle Way House’s two year transitional housing, The Rise, for my interview with Debra Morrow. Debra has been serving as the Community Service Coordinator for five years. Her passion for her work was infectious and is illuminated throughout this interview. I am fortunate enough to have met with her because she is truly inspirational. Near the end of our interview, she asked the powerful question, “When you don’t trust the people who are supposed to love you, how can you trust anyone?” Middle Way House works to restore that trust in every individual.
I organize the main 8 hour volunteer trainings and I help distribute volunteers to the different positions they’re going to. I do a lot of services at The Rise when women first move in, trying to help them get the items they need for their apartments. I also try to bring programming in and do public speaking.
How did you become interested in nonprofit work?
Honestly, I used to live here and worked at Middle Way House’s small business, Food Works. I started going to school for criminal justice at Ivy Tech then transferred to ISU. When I was doing that, I started looking at the criminal justice system as being more of a helping system. Looking around me, I was seeing all the things that people faced that were low income. I started working with an organization after I graduated that helped women transition out of jail. I realized that so many of them had experienced domestic violence too and I kept making referrals to Middle Way House. When the job opening came open, how better to make it full circle? I still do a support group with women in the jail here and still continue to help them learn about healthy relationships.
We are always accepting volunteers and interns. They are required to attend one of our 8 hour trainings and go to an orientation in the program that their volunteering in. We feel it’s really important that anyone who’s working here has a really good understanding of domestic violence, how it affects individuals, how it affects families and society as a whole. We want our volunteers to feel confident and comfortable in what they’re doing. Our Crisis Line is one where can always use volunteers because that’s manned by volunteers 24 hours a day.
Can you describe your ideal candidate?
Somebody who is open-minded and not judgmental is very important. We don’t want anyone coming in here and thinking, “Why don’t they just leave?” You have to ready to see someone return to an abuser and be ok with that. Someone who knows how to not let this wear them down; working here is a difficult role to fill but yet it’s wonderful and beautiful at the same time.
Which service of MWH are you most passionate about?
The Rise and the women here. Just because I used to walk down the halls and live in the same apartments they do. Just to see them putting their families back together, that just touches my heart.
What is the most challenging issue you have faced?
Seeing all the funding cut. That’s the scariest part because we can’t look around to see what services to cut because all of our services are vital. That’s why we’re so dependent on volunteers and interns. It worries me about the future of transitional housing because if this wasn’t here, I don’t know where I would be. I would love for there to be no domestic violence and sexual abuse, and for me to be out of a job because it’s nonexistent, not because funding is nonexistent.
How has Middle Way influenced your life?
It gave me a whole new start. It took me out of a situation that I didn’t know how I was going to get out of. It gave me hope. I was capable of making good choices once someone gave me a chance. I won the Emerging Leader of the Year Award this year. One of the most important things about that was Middle Way House allowed my kids to be proud of me. If I look back, in all honesty, I didn’t give them a whole lot to be proud of.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in working for a nonprofits?
Volunteer and get to know the organization first. When they’re looking to hire and they know who you are what type of worker you are, and you go to apply for the same position someone they don’t know anything about, that’s going to give you an upper hand.
Shannen Keene is a junior from Ellettsville, IN pursuing a degree in Community Health. Bloomington has taught her the value of diversity, culture, and good food. After graduation, she hopes to work for a nonprofit organization in Nashville, TN. Until then, her days will be filled with ice cream and watching Scandal.
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