MILWAUKEE – Helping people escape a nightmare has been a “dream job” for Nancy Stone.
Stone is a mental health clinician with Jewish Family Services, one of two therapists JFS funds at the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee to work with families impacted by domestic violence.
“I feel very honored to not only work with an agency (JFS) that sees the value of this work, but also at an agency (Sojourner) that really values safety, peace and people being cared for,” Stone said. “I feel very supported.”
Mary Ann (not her real name) came to see Stone in the spring of 2016, having contemplated suicide. “She was a 50-something African-American woman in a domestic violence marriage,” Stone recalled. “She was struggling with a sense of hopelessness, not feeling she had the ability to change her situation.”
Stone concentrated on trying to convince Mary Ann that she could live without fear and anxiety.
“Someone might realize that she doesn’t want to kill herself, but what does that leave her?” Stone said. “We worked on her sense of worth and esteem. Perhaps she can’t figure out how to fix her situation and thinks there’s something wrong with her. She had isolated herself, believing alcohol was the best option to help her cope.”
Sylvan Leabman, past president and chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services, was a driving force behind the project at the Peace Center, which is among the first co-located child advocacy and family violence centers in the country. The Peace Center also houses representatives of Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Police Department and Children’s Hospital, with the two JFS therapists working mainly with adult women.
Leabman said JFS has had a strong relationship with Sojourner for many years. When Carmen Pitre, Sojourner’s president and CEO, asked if JFS wanted to become involved with the new co-location site, Leabman became part of the planning committee working on the design of the building, located at 619 W. Walnut St.
“We wanted to make sure the clinic space was professionally done and had sufficient space,” Leabman said.
Stone, 58, began working there in January of 2016 and is funded by grants. “It’s been a terrific partnership,” Leabman said.
John Yopps, who became president and CEO at JFS in April of 2016, agreed, adding, “It’s been remarkably successful. From January when we opened to the following January, one therapist could not keep up with the demands, so we added another therapist. So many people have a need.”
One of those people is Mary Ann, among approximately 25 to 30 clients Stone sees weekly. Her clients range in age from 19 to 70.
Mary Ann divorced her abusive husband, and eventually, Stone said, “felt a greater sense of personal entitlement, could live without fear and could manage her anxiety. She reached out to family members and began building stronger support in the community.”
But Stone doesn’t know what has happened to Mary Ann since they stopped seeing each other after six months.
“Many of my clients live chaotic lives, some live with substance abuse and maybe relapse,” Stone said.
If so, JFS, with its grant money and donor dollars, will be there to help.
“This (the Peace Center site) has developed into a national model that people come from all over the country to learn about,” Yopps said.