Coping With COVID Update: Circle

Back in April, we spoke to Diane Kinney, Co-Director of Circle, a nonprofit that serves victims & survivors of intimate partner violence, about how the organization is coping during the COVID-19 crisis and why the number of domestic violence cases have been rising. We caught up with Diane to get an update on how Circle has been doing during the pandemic.

Kristin: A lot has changed since we first spoke back in April. What has the evolution been like of how Circle operates during the time between then and now?

Diane: Circle works within numerous systems, such as the courts and housing agencies.  These systems have been changing their protocols as COVID continues to impact our communities. These changes have been difficult to navigate at times, but we work locally and statewide in order to do our best to stay on top of these changes so that we can support victims/survivors in helpful and accurate ways.  Advocates are still available 24/7, but most of our work is done by Zoom, phone, or web chat, with the exception of court and shelter. 

Our advocates are working diligently to provide the best supports possible to victim/survivors.  We are also keenly aware that the need to be at least 6 feet apart and masked has impacted the emotional connection we normally form with people.  We miss being able to be close enough to listen intently and to offer a hug or a gentle touch. 

Kristin: What precautions are you taking to keep the people you serve, your staff, and the community safe?

Diane: We saw a large reduction in hotline calls early on, which we believe was due to survivors being with their abusive partners and unable to call us.  We have seen a very steady increase in calls this fall leading into winter. We added a chatline to our website and a text phone.  Our support group, being held over Zoom had no new members until this fall when folks realized this is going to go on for a while. We have nearly doubled the number of people in the group and will add a second Zoom support group if more folks are interested (as we cannot accept any more at this time).

Circle staff are working from home for the most part – our in-person services are still available but limited. We are rarely holding any in-person meetings – if possible, most conversations are happening over phone, video, or web chat.  Staff continue to go to court to sit with victims/survivors in their final hearings and everyone is required to follow court safety procedures.  Our shelter remains open, but we are limiting the number of families to try and keep residents and staff safe. All of our meetings, whether staff, board or community, are being held over Zoom. While we look forward to seeing our colleagues in-person sometime in the future, with the recent spike in cases, we decided to extend our remote work until further notice.

Kristin: What are your fears entering into the winter season?

Diane: Unemployment and school closings means that people are not going to have much of an opportunity to reach out for help. Circle is aware of these potential restraints and has tried to increase the ways people can reach us, by having a toll free hotline, email address on our web page, and a web chat option. While we have to limit the content when talking by email or web chat, it at least provides one more way to reach us. We are stocking up on nonperishable food items and hygiene items as well, knowing that this might be the roughest winter we’ve all seen in a while.

Kristin: How can people support Circle right now? 

Diane: Gift cards for supermarkets, gas stations, Walmart or Visa cards are extremely helpful right now – cards can always be mailed so we can limit in-person contact, keeping everyone safe. If someone doesn’t have the financial resources to make this kind of donation, they can always give their time. We can always use more volunteers on the hotline, on our board of directors, and someday in the future, shelter visitors. People can visit our website – Circlevt.org – to learn more about volunteering.  There you will find and application to volunteer. Interested folks can email us at info@circlevt.org as well. Applications are being accepted thru January 22nd for our next training.

Kristin: Any exciting updates about Circle you’d like to share that you haven’t already?

Diane: In July, Circle became a dual program, serving both domestic and sexual violence victims. Up until this time, Circle was one of the two counties that had separate domestic and sexual violence programs. In order to better serve our community and to meet the growing needs, the staff and board of directors determined that it was time for Circle to take this step. 

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