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Collaborating to fill gaps

Last column, I explored the importance of culturally mapping out the universe of a Ugandan jungle, closing the gaps of knowledge about that universe for the Special Forces using the very people that daily move about in that forest. I then pivoted to communities like Washington to explore the gaps that exist in our own universe for at-risk and vulnerable populations. I promoted the importance of using nonprofits as information providers and gap fillers. Perhaps the leap between the rain forest and Washington, and the metaphor of GIS layers, required a stretch. Still, the conclusion remains that gaps exist there and in places like Washington, and somehow, these need to be filled.

Women and children are the most vulnerable and at-risk populations that exist on the edges of communities. There are a whole mess of reasons for this, and one column isn’t enough to even begin to understand why. However, just a few manifestations can begin to lay a foundation of awareness about vulnerability: intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, substance abuse, homelessness, unplanned pregnancy and more. Unless people have worked with at-risk women, know others in that situation or even have personally taken part in that experience, they tend to consciously filter how they think about the space, through biases such as why and how women become part of the vulnerable population.

One can easily understand the plight of women without too much attribution about how and why they became at-risk or in need. As for the rain forest, the Special Forces knew it was there, but until the gaps were revealed in their understanding, they didn’t realize how little they “knew” of it and about who resided there. The more information that came to the soldiers, the more the rain forest opened up in terms of paths, roads, villages and other critical points or attributes that eventually became important in their mission.

There are five nonprofits that provide services to women who are at-risk in our community. Each help to fill gaps in Washington and the surrounding communities and each works to address different issues confronting women. It is critical that the agencies, organizations and groups that play a role in providing assistance understand how these issues are addressed by those working in this space.

Ruth’s House provides a comprehensive set of services for survivors of domestic violence and teen dating violence, including but not limited to emergency housing, relocation services, court advocacy and accompaniment, and outreach and community advocacy services.

Coastal Pregnancy Center serves families in Beaufort and surrounding areas by offering free pregnancy and ultrasound testing and by working to help families experience positive pregnancy and parenting outcomes. Their mission also includes offering evidence-based education, parenting-class incentives, material services and professional and peer counseling.

Higher Heights serves pregnant and parenting teens with a focus on helping them finish high school and post-secondary education so that they may better provide for themselves and their child. In collaboration with community partners and resources, Higher Heights works with these young people to restructure their lives in hopes of achieving positive outcomes.

Open Door Community Center provides safe shelter for Beaufort County women and children in need of permanent housing. Their goal is to create a center that also provides referrals to partnering agencies that can help these women improve their circumstances and regain an independent life.

Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities offers programs that support the needs of at-risk female veterans, including the development of a residential reintegration and healing experience for women recovering from substance abuse.

Each nonprofit focuses on a segment of the at-risk population. Some currently or in the future will provide housing for women in different life situations. Some provide health and educational services. Others offer ongoing programs to create opportunity and foster resilience. But all work to provide vulnerable women a better future and to give them a chance to succeed in our community.

Consider nonprofits as first responders. They are nimble in their capacity to identify and address issues and populations in need. They fill gaps. Like the nonprofits outlined above, they offer assistance to specific populations who might otherwise fall between the cracks. Aware of their missions, they offer a full appreciation of what help is out there and what help might still be needed. On the ground, nonprofits can also identify, and sometimes create, opportunities for working across respective missions to find synergy and efficiency.

Five nonprofits working with women in our community have formed a working group, dubbed informally the Giddyup Five (based on our meeting place). For the last three months, the group has met to explore ways and means to improve assistance across the women’s issue space. Awareness of how each of the missions fills various needs is important. However, pursuing the art of the possible in collective action creates an added benefit. An example of this partnership is the upcoming “Evening Conversation with Holly Dunn,” April 11 at 6 p.m. at the Turnage Theatre. Holly is the author of “Sole Survivor,” an account of her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. Members of the Giddyup Five are cosponsoring this event and similar efforts that offer the community a chance to learn more about triggers and experiences that affect all women.

The Giddyup Five will continue to look for ways to fill gaps and build bridges for at-risk women.

Robert Greene Sands is an anthropologist and CEO of the non-profit Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities located in Washington.