Portraits of Peace House History: Rising to the Challenge
This year marks 25 years of Peace House serving survivors of family violence and abuse in Summit and Wasatch counties through shelter, support services, education and outreach. As part of our 25th Anniversary Year, each month we are spotlighting some of the many individuals who have shaped Peace House history. Throughout the year, we will be honoring and commemorating all those who have supported the life-saving and life-changing work that Peace House has offered our community over the past 25 years.
The September 21, 2019, Ribbon Cutting Celebration to mark the official opening of the Peace House community campus showcased both the new facility and Peace House’s expanded programming. An influx of clients came to seek outreach support and residential services at the new shelter. During the remaining months of 2019, Peace House was adapting to having their programming, services, staff, and clients all under one roof. Executive Director Kendra Wyckoff recalls that they had to sort out many nuances with new policies and procedures to navigate their publicly known space. As Peace House established connections and protocols among staff, survivors of interpersonal violence, and community members, they began to feel grounded. By early 2020, Peace House was looking at planning and launching new programs that were key to the facility.
In February 2020 as the organization was preparing to launch their new transitional housing program, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Peace House staff found themselves in the depths of a public health crisis, and no one knew how long it would last. Kendra says that staff chose to “focus most of our attention on remaining fully operational and to support safety at a number of levels,” including trying to prevent spread of the virus in the residential program. They began to find ways to navigate a completely new world by skillfully adapting nearly all of their programming and services.
Kendra recalls the day Summit County issued its shelter-in-place mandate. She says, “I was sitting in my office, digesting what all this meant. People were trying to shelter in place, and we offered a communal space. I thought, How do we attend to our clients and keep them from contracting the virus?” Shortly after that, on March 14, 2020, came the announcement of the first case of community spread. That day, Kendra had just begun training the staff members in the community room about new policies to keep the virus from spreading within the campus. As the situation quickly and dramatically shifted, she worked with Peace House’s program directors to ensure their programs could remain fully operational and continue to allow clients to access them.
In March 2020, Tim Savage worked with the Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing to extend Peace House’s residential support license to the 12 transitional housing units in order to use that space for emergency shelter during the health crisis. By allowing each family their own space, this shift reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission among residents. They designated two of the 12 apartments for quarantine. By the end of the month, Peace House was successfully moving clients into the new transitional housing apartments. All of these adaptations required the establishment of additional safety measures, policies, and practices.
For the first three months of the pandemic, only residential staff and a few program directors were working on campus. Kendra was there daily with Director of Prevention and Education Leisa Mukai—who became COVID-19 Coordinator—and Tim Savage, Director of Program Operations. By minimizing staff in the building, they hoped to reduce the risk of virus exposure to those living on campus in the emergency shelter.
With the increased challenges in finding housing and jobs during this uncertain time, emergency shelter stays increased from an average of 26 days to 52 days, and Peace House recognized the increased need for transitional housing. By August 2020, the organization moved single adult clients out of transitional units temporarily used for emergency shelter and back into the emergency shelter, freeing up rooms to launch their new Transitional Housing Program. Staff established new policies and procedures for the emergency shelter to keep residents socially distant from one another, including sign-ups for kitchen use and other communal areas. Peace House also adapted emergency shelter rooms by installing televisions and microwaves purchased through grant funding from the CARES Act.
In September 2020, Peace House officially opened their Transitional Housing Program, placing two approved residents into two of the apartments. This was a significant milestone. In January 2021, two more residents moved in; and in June 2021, Peace House plans to accept two more applicants, thus meeting survivors’ needs and the vision for this residential program.
Throughout the pandemic, Kendra notes, “Every day we were constantly evaluating what was happening with clients on campus . . . continually managing the health and safety of our clients and navigating concerns around their physical and emotional wellness.” Domestic abuse is already an isolating condition, and now for their own health safety clients could not congregate, which created an increased sense of isolation. Staff knew this was mentally taxing for their clients, but they also had to avoid an outbreak that would force the shelter’s doors to close. Kendra describes these weeks as “a really difficult and scary time, and an unpredictable time. A lot of intense work around managing capacity.”
Kendra has worked closely with the county health department to protect both the staff members’ and clients’ health and safety. She notes the great support Peace House received from Carolyn Rose, then Nurse Director at Summit County Health Department who Kendra had on speed dial and was available to her 24/7. If residents should experience symptoms of COVID-19, they would be quarantined for 14 days in designated apartments within the transitional housing wing. Staff established policies and protocols around how to provide any quarantined residents with everything from meals and laundry to medical care. They strongly encouraged anyone who exhibited symptoms to seek testing next door at Park City’s Intermountain Hospital. Peace House has been fortunate in that they have not had a confirmed case of COVID-19 among residents, and they have had no communal spread within the campus.
When the vaccine became available to residents of Summit County in winter 2021, Peace House worked closely with the health department to schedule vaccine appointments. On occasion, nurses from the health department vaccinated clients on the Peace House campus. Kendra emphasizes that she is “eternally grateful for the resources in the community and the support of the Summit County Health Department.”
Peace House staff adapted all programs to meet the needs of both residential and outreach clients. Program directors researched telehealth platforms so they could provide virtual services for case management, clinical therapy, and legal advocacy. Kendra notes that these new platforms “allowed our team members working in the residential program and within the community an alternative resource to use, allowing connection with a reduced risk to staff and clients.” Peace House was still offering in-person services, but clients were given options. To implement services via telehealth platforms, the organization had to locate and purchase laptops and iPads and provide technology that people could use on campus and off campus. Again, they needed to establish policies and procedures for their new telehealth platforms, as well as support for their staff, who were nearly all telecommuting. This was a lot to figure out while ensuring survivors had continual access to services.
Calls to Peace House’s 24/7 helpline increased by 50 percent during the first year of the pandemic. From March through June 2020, local government officials instructed community members to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” Peace House knew that many victims of domestic violence were at greater risk of abuse during this time; growing unemployment and increased economic pressures at home meant that abusers were spending more time at home. With victims coming up against barriers to accessing in-person resources, the helpline began receiving more calls than ever before. Peace House advocates supported clients over the phone to make safety plans, even as the clients were living at home with their abusers. Once Peace House implemented telehealth, clients began using case management and legal advocacy services through the new online platform. They also began to adapt to online therapy services. As a result, there was an uptick in counseling services, Kendra points out.
One year later, therapists are hearing that 50 percent of their clients want to continue to use telehealth. They say it is more convenient for many of their clients, because they don’t have to travel, secure child care, or take additional time off work. Telehealth has proven to be a silver lining to the services Peace House offers. Kendra sees this as a potential benefit to recruitment and staff retention as well.
Another service that Peace House has creatively adapted during the pandemic is their Prevention Education Program. Leisa Mukai, Director of Prevention Education, is responsible for educating more than 10,000 children—from kindergarten to twelfth grade—about violence prevention each year in Summit and Wasatch counties. She and Education Specialist Sam Janse have traditionally gone into classrooms to teach and raise awareness about interpersonal violence and abuse. When schools closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic, all presentations were canceled for the remainder of the year. Leisa put her head down and began adapting their program. She adopted Safer, Smarter Kids, a curriculum that has video components to it. The prevention and education team developed a greater social media presence and designed and recorded presentations that students and community members of all age groups could watch online. Leisa presented her new curriculum 433 times to nearly 10,000 students, nearly the same as last year. With her increased emphasis on social media, community meetings, and presentations, the prevention and education team provided 675 engagements, with a reach of more than 18,000 individuals.
The programs at Peace House continued to evolve, adapt, and grow because of the creativity and commitment of the staff and the support of the board of directors. Peace House not only opened their Transitional Housing Program in September 2020 but expanded their support resources to survivors seeking affordable housing. Peace House invested in hiring transitional housing specialists to ensure greater odds of survivors’ finding affordable housing. Suhad Khudair joined the staff in March 2020 as Housing Coordinator, followed by Ahmed in May 2020 as Housing Navigator. (Peace House History: Safety, Support, and Stability)
Peace House also invested in their Sexual Assault Program, hiring Sexual Assault Services Coordinator Veronica Bustillos in April 2020. Veronica has helped to create a support system for sexual assault survivors through building community partnerships and a core of trained sexual assault advocates. (Peace House History: Safety, Support, and Stability)
In spring 2021, Peace House launched their Employee Housing Program for staff members. Attached to the new campus, the two affordable apartment units became available to staff members as an employment incentive, providing affordable housing within the Park City community.
“This was a year of multi-tasking,” Leisa Mukai points out. Staff helped by taking night shifts inside the shelter as needs arose and by tackling projects that Peace House’s valuable core of volunteers normally do. Kendra notes that many staff members who were working from home were simultaneously homeschooling their children, providing round-the-clock child care, and sharing work-from-home spaces with their significant others. For everyone, it was a year of finding creative ways to continue to meet increased demands both at work and at home.
Staff, board, and committee members at Peace House were continually adapting to ensure the organization’s success. They held all meetings virtually. Facilities Committee members met frequently as they reconfigured the campus to accommodate the ever-changing needs of clients, all while establishing policies and procedures for the evolving residential programs. The development and fundraising team reimagined fundraisers. Peace House’s annual Spring Luncheon approached shortly after the pandemic lockdown. Event co-chairs Julie Joyce and Kate Margolis quickly changed the already planned in-person May luncheon to an online event, renamed Spring Lunch-In. Because of the generosity of online donors, Spring Lunch-In successfully raised a record amount of funds.
The year 2020 also marked the 25th Anniversary of Peace House, with plans for a fundraising celebration at the 4U Ranch in Peoa in September 2020. With virus cases expecting to peak in the fall again, the 25th Anniversary Committee chose to shift the celebration/fundraiser into a year-long event. Karen Marriott—who became the Chair of the 25th Anniversary Committee—and Sally Tauber, Director of Development and Marketing, recruited 25th Anniversary Year sponsors to give generously by sponsoring monthly history pieces that would tell the story of Peace House over the next twelve months. Karen Marriott offered to research and write the history of Peace House; this effort will culminate in an on-campus event on September 18, 2021, to honor Peace House’s 25 years of evolution and all those who have made it a success.
Other events had to adapt during the pandemic, including the annual Bling Fling. The yearly accessory sale became an online shopping and auction event called Bling-It-On. Peace House’s annual Pillars of Giving appreciation event became a drive-by holiday celebration. Polly Strasser and the Fundraising Committee dressed up in holiday attire and provided hot drinks and appreciation gifts to drive-by donors. Spring Lunch-In’s 2021 committee led by Elana Spitzberg and Kate Margolis took a creative new approach by giving guests insight to Behind The Doors of Peace House. On May 7, 2021, online guests caught a glimpse of clients’ experiences when they come into the shelter at Peace House in crisis and navigate through services to a place of healing. All of these fundraisers were important to sustaining Peace House and its services during a challenging year.
Peace House proved to be adaptable and resilient in a year like no other. Staff not only modified current programs and reimagined events to keep them on schedule, they also increased their programming and resources while keeping those who were living and working on campus safe. Despite the worldwide pandemic and the hurdles it presented, Peace House successfully met the demands and turned no victim of interpersonal violence away.
Over the past 25 years, Peace House has modeled the resiliency and strength they have seen in those they serve. The new campus stands proudly in the community as a beacon of hope and healing to all who may need its support and services. The grassroots efforts of the original founders back in 1990, who responded to a desperate need within the community following the murder of Nadalee Noble, (Peace House History: Jean Paulson and Linda Hathaway) remain the foundation on which the organization stands. Peace House has always relied upon committed volunteers, staff, community partners, and donors. Without the collective efforts of all those who have given so generously of their time, talent, and means, Peace House would not be where it is today—a thriving organization that envisions communities free from interpersonal violence and abuse. Peace House is grateful to all those who have made their remarkable history possible and remain committed to ending interpersonal violence and abuse and empowering survivors to heal and thrive by providing support services, safe housing, and prevention education.
Researched and written by Karen Marriott
Edited by Sandra More
- Polly Strasser, Board Member and Ali Widison, Pillars of Giving Supporter at our Pillars of Giving drive-by event, December 2020
- Board Members Pam Woll and Polly Strasser bringing hot drinks to Pillars of Giving donors in a drive-by holiday event, December 2020
- Tim Savage, Programs Director, Kate Stone, Director of Residential Services, Suhad Khudair, Housing Coordinator and Ahmed Fatech, Housing Navigator
- Spring Lunch-In 2021 online event invite
- Tim Savage, Director of Programs
- Safer, Smarter Kids! New online school curriculum used by Prevention and Education.