A Fresh Perspective on DAP

Author | Peter Bryans


Hi mom,

Hope all is well.   Not much has changed with me; still going to class, scraping by on noodles and sandwiches.   Oh, I started volunteering at the Domestic Abuse Project or DAP.   You and dad always told me I just get involved in the community, right? I just visited the building for the first time and even got to sit in on an orientation.

If it weren’t for the sign in front of the building, I wouldn’t have known that the brown, house at 204 West Franklin was host to one of the most innovative domestic abuse programs in the country.

Walking around inside left me with the same feeling as when I was outside. I was confused. How was this program that was changing perspectives on domestic abuse? Then it became obvious. The combination of sky blue, white and tan covering the lobby walls made me feel as if I was home, almost like our home. To the left was a set of stairs that led both up and down, with clothing donations lining the downstairs set. To the right, a set of rooms used for orientation and group meetings; the rooms where men and women were at their most vulnerable and barriers were broken down. But if you think about it, isn’t that the point? Clients should feel as welcome as possible. The bright colors and homely feel allowed me to break away from the clinical setting I expected. Free from white coats and clipboards; free from judgment.

Maybe it’s the lack of security. That’s an odd thought. The lack of security makes clients feel comfortable. I approached the front door expecting some form of security, only to walk into a normal house. There weren’t any metal detectors or security guards, just a front desk big enough to help one client at a time with a couple of chairs and a stack of magazines to the right.

Yet, I still felt a little uneasy. I didn’t know anything about domestic abuse. I started wondering what I was getting into. I knew I wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of criminals, so I couldn’t figure out why I was so nervous. But this was what I signed up for, so I decided to embrace the moment.

Colors and individualized rooms are one thing, but it’s the people that truly make DAP what it is. When my partners and I first met Konrad, the volunteer manager, I was surprised at how soft-spoken he was. I’m glad he was the first person we met though; the topic of domestic abuse is still new and daunting to me and he made the first encounter with it easy. He plays such an important role at DAP, yet his office is so small. Manila folders line the walls, and where there aren’t folders there are framed posters, exposing the dark purple paint of the wall underneath. Alternative and indie rock coming from Konrad’s laptop filled the silent air while we filled out volunteer paperwork.

Heidi, however, was a different story. She leads the men’s group, which was the orientation we sat in on. When we met her in her office, she was quiet and welcoming but when she led that group, it was as if she was a different person. The quiet and welcoming hand we shook became a no-nonsense, in-your-face woman. And she had to be. But at the same time, she understood what the men were going through. She knows that if she isn’t real with them, she won’t break through. The orientation room, lined with old wooden book cases full of folders and books, dirty white boards that hadn’t been cleaned in months and rows of chairs was her soap box, and every one listened. So she didn’t come across as the hand-holding leader; she was real and she’s going to get each of those men through the program. To me, that’s comforting.

Finally, there’s Carol. As executive director, she has a lot on her hands but she does it all with a smile. The bright pink walls of her office tell me she’s still in touch with her inner child; The folders stacked against the wall tell me work never ends. She keeps a clay model of a monster a child created as a reminder of the success of DAP’s work. A monster composed of a circular orange bottom with large white and green eyes. This represented Jaime’s fear; his ability to leave it behind means it no longer exists. It serves as a reminder for what DAP can accomplish. Carol alone is a comforting sight. A petite woman with comforting voice and a gentle handshake, I can’t imagine anyone meeting her and not liking her. With Carol leading the DAP staff, I know great things can happen

Upon leaving orientation, I still couldn’t believe what I had just gone through. I never would have imagined myself sitting in on orientation for a domestic abuse program. In a strange way, I felt proud of myself for leaving my comfort zone. On the other hand, I realized I had a long, unknown process in front of me.

I guess that’s all I had to say. I didn’t mean to write so much about my experience but I had so much to say. At some point I’ll need some financial assistance but that’s for another email.

Until then,