On April 20, 2022

NewStory Center serves and honors the vulnerable, the strong, the survivors

By Liz DiMarco Weinmann

On first meeting Avaloy Lanning, the executive director of Rutland’s NewStory Center, one is most impressed with her generous laugh, relentless drive, and abundant positivity. That NewStory Center is a nonprofit helping survivors of domestic violence every single day, makes Lanning’s approach to her work — and to life overall — even more remarkable.

In her many community presentations as well as conversations with survivors, Lanning is calm and caring as she emphasizes the universal prevalence of domestic violence. Her demeanor is akin to that of a trusted teacher, especially when she’s helping survivors understand the violence they have experienced is not their fault.

“Violence happens everywhere…rural, urban, global, local,” she said. “No community is immune. These aren’t big-city problems or ‘those people’ problems. It happens in every religion, every race. It happens to men as well as women — straight, gay, or trans. And it happens in every economic class.”

Jennifer Yakunovich, NewStory’s development director, who is responsible for securing funding and other support for the organization, has a more reserved personality, but she is equally passionate about advocating for the dignity of survivors.

“Some of the strongest people I’ve ever met have been at NewStory Center,” said Yakunovich. “Survivors work hard every day to stay one step ahead of their abuser. That takes skills that many of us could not imagine.” The NewStory team comprises seven professionals with expertise and experience in counseling survivors and education, in addition to leading crucial systems, housing equity work, and shelter services.

Perhaps the most visible of NewStory’s efforts to build awareness and show support for survivors is an event coming up this Saturday, April 23, at the Vermont State Fairgrounds called Walk a Mile Rutland County. (Check-in:1 p.m.; walk begins: 2 p.m.) In past years, as many as 500 men and women at a time walked or marched – in red high heels, red boots, red sandals, or red sneakers – to show support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“The goal of Walk a Mile remains the same,” said Yakunovich. “We celebrate survivors’ successes, and we honor them as they regain power and control over their lives. We want survivors to see that their friends and neighbors see them, believe them, and will walk beside them.”

Lanning has served as the executive director of NewStory Center since March 2015. She comes to this work with many years of experience in human rights advocacy, abroad as well as in the U.S. Prior to joining NewStory Center, she was the senior director of Safe Horizon’s anti-trafficking program in New York City.

“I was raised to believe we each have a responsibility to care for our fellow humans,” she said, “and that it is imperative that I use my voice to speak for those that aren’t being heard.” That personal calling ultimately led her to pursue her master’s in social work.

Lanning was motivated to move to Vermont to spend more time with her husband and young daughter. “I was ready to do more community based, grassroots work,” she said. “I have always had a real soft spot for rural communities. Vermont feels very rural to me.”

Jen Yakunovich joined NewStory Center eight years ago, following eight years as the museum educator at the Manchester Historic Association in Manchester, New Hampshire. She holds an M.Ed. in general education.

“My transition to NewStory Center came from a desire to move back to the community I grew up in and be closer to family,” she says. “I knew there were good things happening here and I wanted to be a part of the good.”

NewStory Center is one of 15 organizations in the Vermont Domestic Violence Network.

Following are just a few compelling statistics about domestic violence in Vermont, from the National Coalition on Domestic Violence:

  • 39.2% of Vermont women and 30.9% of men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner rape and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes.
  • In 2020, Vermont domestic violence organizations served 7,799 victims and answered 17,137 hotline calls.
  • In 2020, there were 15 homicides in Vermont, 53% of which were the result of domestic violence. Children were present in half of the domestic violence homicides.

Over the month of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, various organizations across the United States have been raising awareness about sexual violence, how to prevent it, and how to support those who are affected by it.

Both Lanning and Yakunovich attribute their drive and perseverance to the courage of the very survivors they serve.

“The community keeps us going,” Yakunovich said. “Whether it’s sending a check, donating shampoo, attending an event, or sharing posts on social media, it all makes a difference. It brightens our day to know we’re not alone in this work.”

Lanning cites: “Celebrating victories, large and small, with survivors; coming to work with such an incredible team; getting to share our work with the larger community; learning something new every day – about myself, my colleagues, the survivors we serve, the needs in our community.

“The things I find most difficult are making sure that our very talented team has the resources they need,” she adds. Also, “The lack of understanding around the impacts of trauma, which revictimized many survivors; the politicization of victimization; and the overwhelming number of systemic barriers faced by so many of the people we serve.”

“We must start listening to and believing survivors,” she urges. They more than deserve our empathy and the utmost respect for what they are compelled to do to survive. They are the experts in their own lives.”

NewStory Center has a 24-hour hotline, 802-775-3232. For general information, and updated information about the Walk-A-Mile event, see nscvt.org.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions. lizdimarcoweinmann.com.

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