By Aaron Retherford
No one enjoys talking about sexual or physical abuse. That can mean the organizations that advocate for victims of those crimes might not receive the public recognition for their efforts they deserve.
One such organization is right here in Barre – O.U.R. House of Central Vermont.
“A lot of times it’s easier to appreciate that we’re here and do the work, but maybe not have us be super loud about it,” OUR House Executive Director Rebecca Duranleau said. “I don’t want people who are victims of those crimes to feel ashamed and they don’t matter. Because they are vital members of this community. We’re here to support them and to support their families.”
OUR House became the first children’s advocacy center in Vermont in 1990, and it is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its accreditation through the National Children’s Alliance. The accreditation process is quite rigorous and accredited centers must meet 10 strict standards.
And thanks to the teamwork of Duranleau and long-time Case Manager Kerrie Greig, OUR House has placed itself in special company.
“Kerrie has been the glue holding OUR House together since she’s been here,” Tim Bombardier, Barre City Police Chief and OUR House board member, said. “We’ve gone through other directors in the past, but Kerrie has been the rock here and people need to know that. Rebecca and Kerrie as a team have been instrumental in getting the accreditation through. We’ve tried before, and it’s a tedious process. It opens the door for grants and funding that is only available if you have that accreditation. It’s a huge thing, and without Rebecca and Kerrie being here, we wouldn’t be in a position to have that accreditation and to keep it.”
Duranleau is approaching her second-year anniversary as executive director, and Greig, who was originally hired by Duranleau’s mother, will have been with OUR House for 20 years in November.
The OUR stands for One Unified Response, and that’s how Duranleau approaches her main role as executive director. She makes sure all the different agencies that work with OUR House are on the same page and understand each other’s policies and requirements.
With the challenge of achieving its accreditation complete, Duranleau has other lofty goals in mind for the center, which helped facilitate 135 investigations a year ago.
Many families need immediate therapy after these traumatic experiences. But without insurance, they can be placed on six-week to 90-day waitlists, and Duranleau believes that is something that needs to change. OUR House provides two therapy rooms that could be used by local therapists.
Duranleau said she has also been working on creating a pediatric SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program at Central Vermont Medical Center. The hospital has a SANE program for adults, and Duranleau expects details to be ironed out within the next year.
“We really are just a space, trying to make sure everybody gets what they need,” Duranleau said.
That can include time with a special therapy dog if a child is having a difficult time opening up to interviewers. OUR House has an interview room with two cameras, so children’s interviews are recorded and they only need to go through the interview process once. There is also a separate room where other members of the team can view and listen to the interview as it occurs.
The job can take its toll though. Some interviews can be harder to listen to than others, and that’s where Ziggy the office therapy bunny comes in handy. Running around with his “security sock”, Ziggy lightens up any mood.
Now, OUR House could use your help. But don’t worry, it will be easy. You only have to attend a donkey basketball game on April 28 at the Barre Civic Center.
It will be one of three events in April benefitting OUR House. The Green Mountain Comic Expo (April 1-2) and Granite City Fitness’s 5K Fun Run (April 15) also support the center as April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. OUR House will also have an informational booth at the Comic Expo.
OUR House has hosted Calcutta dinners in the past, but this year Duranleau wanted to hold a fundraiser that everyone in the community could enjoy as her way of saying thank you for the community’s generosity. It’s also a way to raise money for all the little things that most people don’t think of, but can add up, like air fresheners, cookies, juice boxes, and coffee. With these little touches, OUR House hopes to bring a level of comfort to victims and their families because their lives at that moment are in turmoil.
“We come to work to hear people’s stories and figure out how to make their day better,” Duranleau said. “It’s legitimately what we wake up to do, and when we go home at the end of the day, we hope to do that for a person.”
If you want to help support this good cause, tickets for donkey basketball range in price from $1-$10 and are available at eventbrite.com. or at OUR House.