“You could really see a transformation both from a personal development aspect and from a team development aspect.”
— Denise Cross, President/CEO of Cornerstones of Care

Helping trauma victims often takes a personal toll on those professionals providing the help: social workers, rape crisis center counselors, police officers and many others.

(From left to right) Julia Westhoff, Krista Allen, Amber Eastabrooks, Julie Donelon, Valeri Crenshaw and Lisa Mizell establish a Kansas City center to support workers who help trauma victims.They must grapple with the aftereffects of seeing the impact of violence and abuse and hearing victims’ stories. “Your average person doesn’t really know what secondary trauma is,” says Julia Westhoff, co-founder and the first employee of the Secondary Trauma Resource Center in Kansas City, MO, a new nonprofit focused on helping those who help the most vulnerable.

Westhoff and five other women co-founded the nonprofit after taking on secondary trauma issues as a service project in the Ladder to Leadership program delivered by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®).Ladder to Leadership, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provided leadership training to about 220 healthcare leaders from eight different communities across the United States.

As part of the program, each cohort broke into small groups to do community service projects, tackling issues important to them.

Westhoff and her colleagues, who finished Ladder to Leadership in the summer of 2012, coalesced around a shared passion for secondary trauma. They are now turning their service project into a nonprofit organization. The Secondary Trauma Resource Center, which has funding from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, will provide training and services to organizations whose employees face secondary trauma.

“There’s a lot of trauma associated with doing that kind of work,” says Lynn Fick-Cooper, co-deputy director and lead faculty for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Ladder to Leadership National Program Office. “It can be very difficult to retain really good employees in those types of nonprofits.”

High turnover doesn’t just affect an organization’s efficiency, it can also reduce a nonprofit’s effectiveness. “We just want to build resiliency … so that people will stay in their field for a long time, keep that institutional knowledge there [and] give continuous care to their clients,” says Westhoff, who previously worked at a rape crisis center.

The assessment, development and mentoring that Westhoff and her colleagues received during the Ladder to Leadership program helped them gel as a team and also gave them the confidence to take their secondary trauma project to the next level.

“[The leadership training] helped me deal with any conflicts that come up at work, but it also helped me present myself in a way that helped me be taken more seriously,” says Valeri Crenshaw, a co-founder of the secondary trauma group who is a psychotherapist at the Rose Brooks Center, which helps battered women and their children.

Denise Cross, president and CEO of Cornerstones of Care and an advisor to the group, says the team dynamics changed and matured as they went through the program.

“Some team members became more confident and contributed more to one aspect of the project than they may have when they first came together,” Cross says. “You could really see a transformation both from a personal development aspect and from a team development aspect.”

The Secondary Trauma Resource Center is preparing to deliver services to its first client organizations, as well as establishing the financial, organizational and operational infrastructure the nonprofit needs to grow and serve more. “It’s exciting to think we could have a resource like this for the Kansas City community,” Crenshaw says. “To have something right here at home that could be a resource for so many agencies … could be a real godsend.”

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