Jodi’s Journal: From a small bedroom to a refuge, a win-win workforce

December 11, 2022

Eighty-four people.

This is the number of women and children accommodated two weeks before the planned move to the new children’s shelter for family security.

“It was the highest number we’ve ever had,” said Michelle Lavallee, CEO of the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota, which oversees the program.

They didn’t know why. The police did not know why.

All they knew was that their shelter was designed for 40 people and the demand was more than double that.

“Everyone has left the offices,” Lavallee said. “We turned every living room into a bedroom.”

Things can change quickly in a shelter. You don’t always know why so many people show up or why some leave. Two weeks later, 54 people moved into the new shelter on the Empower campus, designed for 96 people.

“We all moved the women within ourselves,” Lavallee said. “Each of us took a wife and her family and their property. It was wonderful to see the reactions of the children because it was so big.

I had the good fortune to visit several times before it opened, including this one when I sat down with Lavallee for a look back at his career and his goal for the organization reaching families and children in need in whole state:

And she’s right: the new shelter is big, welcoming, warm and forward-looking. The holidays often bring an increase in the number of people seeking refuge from domestic violence, and this year was no exception.

“Usually we get a big spike on Thanksgiving, and it came after Thanksgiving,” Lavallee said. “We’ll have a big spike of people coming after Christmas.”

There is a lot of life-changing work that will happen inside the walls of this building. But one little piece has stuck in my head since I shot because it has the potential to be transformational.

And you would never guess that from looking out the door.

Two desks, a few chairs, a handful of monitors and, fittingly, a Paul Schiller piece hanging on the wall.

This is the smallest office of the Five Star call centers. Each hosted woman is offered the opportunity to work here.

“We are able to offer entry-level positions for those with no contact center experience, through to those with in-depth knowledge and even opportunities for those with healthcare experience. health, technical support and staffing,” said Joel Sylvester, chief customer officer at Five Star. “When you give someone a job in this environment, it’s something they can be proud of. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Five Star’s roots go back to 1978 when it was Lawrence & Schiller TeleServices, founded by Paul Schiller and Craig Lawrence. When this entity acquired Midco Connections, it was renamed in 2017.

Children’s Inn guests have worked for Five Star in the past, but transportation might be a barrier.

“They must have driven or taken the bus,” Sylvester said. “The new Children’s Inn space removes the transportation component.”

On the day I spoke to him, Sylvester’s team — which typically numbers around 600 people and doubles during the holiday season — had placed 33,000 retail orders the day before. It’s everything from fruit baskets and steaks to beauty products. In addition, they have a very active telemedicine activity and have been inundated with calls regarding all the respiratory diseases that are circulating.

They need staff, some of the shelter guests need jobs, and together they seem to have created a real win-win workforce.

Of course, it’s not always an easy victory.

Lavallee taught me that it takes, on average, seven to nine times to leave an abuser before someone leaves the situation for good. But at some point in the cycle, a job opportunity like this will be invaluable.

“The people who are going to take these jobs are determined to get out of the relationship and find their own homes and their own jobs,” Lavallee said.

“And this is a call center in a box. You can take it with you when you go.

Not only that, Five Star does business in nearly two dozen states. Women who start working in the shelter can be given the technology to take their work with them when they leave, or they can enter the Five Star office in Sioux Falls or other states if they seek that environment.

“We have someone who has been here for 17 years who has come to us this way and is in a leadership role with good pay, and that’s a great, great story,” Sylvester said, adding that those who often work for Five Star from the shelter are adept at dealing with the complex emotional issues that callers bring with them.

“They like being able to help people,” he said. “They’re in a situation where they probably haven’t been able to help people for a long time.”

And now, this holiday season, I ask you to consider helping those living at the Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety, which is also open to male victims. A new installation and growing demand require community support, and it’s incredibly easy to help.

I like to add the shelter to my Target shopping list – because they have their own. Simply click here, select what you would like to gift and it will be shipped directly to Children’s Home.

There is also a “shop” inside the new shelter that seeks donations of new winter coats and clothing for men, women and children. Donations of new items are accepted by appointment by calling 605-338-0116.

It takes a community to get people out of such difficult situations. I hope one day I can introduce you to a woman who has changed her life by stepping into this small room and with an employer willing to support her along the way.

New Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety will provide trauma-informed care for victims of domestic violence

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