On June 16th, 1980, Diane Zainhofsky began a journey that changed her life. “I got a call from someone asking if I would be interested in working at the Abused Women’s Resource Closet,” said Zainhofsky. “I found out later it was called the ‘Closet’ because of the small area we worked out of above Sioux Sporting Goods.”
Zainhofsky met with then director, Pearl Lowman; Myrt Armstrong, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association; and Bonnie Palachek, a former executive director of the Closet. “They told me it would only be for four hours per day,” said Zainhofsky. “I was pretty protective of my time and thought that was great! I could still go to my kids’ activities, give rides and be the mom.”
Zainhofsky took the position as an advocate doing direct service and found that she loved it. “I learned a lot,” she said. “In 1979 the legislature passed the first statute that gave women relief from a perpetrator that was abusing them in their own home behind closed doors. That was exciting for me, knowing we were right on top in the nation in having good protection laws for women.”
Zainhofsky recalls her first day on the job, picking up a woman and going to the Mandan courthouse. “I had heard this Judge Hodny was pretty tough and I had all of this paperwork that needed to be done,” she explained.
Zainhofsky asked to see the judge alone prior to the meeting, and explained to him it was her first day, first protection order, and she was scared to death. Then she asked for his help. “He was so wonderful,” explained Zainhofsky. “He swung his chair around, pulled out his code and said, ‘Mrs. Zainhofsky, this is the first protection order I’ve done!’ Last year we gave him the Love Without Fear award. He has just been a special person over the last 30 years.”
The original legislation passed in 1979 to protect victims of abuse has required strengthening over the years. The initial language in the protection order only covered married women. Today, the law covers all family members or people that have had a relationship with the accused. North Dakota now has one of the best protection orders in the country.
Born in Strasburg, Zainhofsky moved to Bismarck in 1956. She went to St. Anne school and St. Mary’s High School, and still has friends from those days. “I am blessed to have very supportive, nurturing women friends,” said Zainhofsky. “They are lifetime friends – friends from school and from working in the domestic violence field.
After she married her husband, Mike, Zainhofsky was blessed to be able to stay home with their three children. She did work as the Head Page in the House during the legislative session for several years because the schedule allowed her to still be home with her children. This experience may also have started her career as an advocate, in that she helped other pages by building their self esteem in their work with legislators.
And what happened with that four hour-a-day job at the Abused Women’s Resource Closet? Zainhofsky will tell you it ended up being more like 16 hours a day. “I am so blessed to have the family support I had,” she said. “Mike and my three children knew if I was gone I was where I needed to be. I have always been very grateful to my family.”
The name of the agency was changed to the Abused Adult Resource Center (AARC)in 1984. The AARC does see male victims. “About five percent of our victims are male,” said Zainhofsky. “The pain and the fear are all the same and we give them the same services we offer to women.”
When Zainhofsky became the Executive Director of the Abused Adult Resource Center in 1986, one of the first things she asked her board for was a part-time fund raiser. “Not until we actually learned to write grants and work with funders could we hire any additional people,” she explained.
And, once able to hire additional staff, she was ready to train those people. “When I trained advocates, I would tell them this can be hard or it can be easy,” said Zainhofsky. “It can be easy if you just become a listener and listen to that person on the other side of the table. And then you need to believe in what she is saying and then you need the resources.”
June and Jim Thompson (who owned Sioux Sporting Goods) never asked for rent from the agency and they are just two of the countless people that have assisted the AARC over the years. “I will never forget the people in my life that gave us a kick start to keep this agency going,” said Zainhofsky. “There were women who would come in with a box of Pampers, one stopped by with a check after she heard me speak. The community believed in the work we were doing. That is what has kept me going the last thirty years.”
It was Zainhofsky’s vision that the organization would someday have a shelter for women, and in 1990 AARC bought their first shelter and moved the office to the building’s lower level. “We used safe homes before we had a shelter,” said Zainhofsky. “But the women usually ended up going back into the abusive relationship because they could only stay in those safe homes for three days. On March 19, 1990 we had our first family move in, and to this day, we have not ever been without a family in our shelter. When you look at a needs assessment for a community that is a testimony in itself that the need is there.”
A few years ago, Zainhofsky got a call about a house for sale with a lot of common space for families. That house, now called Pam’s House, is the organization’s new shelter and sleeps 38. It is a temporary community living arrangement providing a secure environment and 24-hour support services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
The staff at Pam’s House works with the shelter residents to find permanent housing, assists with education and employment, offers children’s activities and coordinates many other services. “The staff is really nice, just like family,” said one resident.
The AARC has expanded its programs as needs arise and funding becomes available. “The first year we were providing services we thought we were busy,” said Zainhofsky. “We had 17 victims of domestic violence that year. Last year we had almost 1,200 new victims that had never been here before. Over the years, our numbers just get larger and larger.”
The AARC does also see male victims. “About five percent of our victims are male,” said Zainhofsky. “The pain and the fear are all the same and we give them the same services we offer to women.”
Zainhofsky is always looking for ways to expand the AARC’s services and one program came about from someone coming into the office explaining she had some extra time on her hands. “I had a vision to develop support groups for the children that had witnessed violence in their homes,” said Zainhofsky. “I wanted to break that cycle. Kids learn what they live. So this woman got some training and started a children’s support group.”
Zainhofsky is quick to give credit for the organization’s growth and success to the staff and supportive board members she has had throughout the years. “No one person built this agency,” she said. “The first child advocate we hired established a lot of our protocol on our programming. Many times, because of the salary ranges we have, our staff will go on to better paying jobs, but they will take a lot of experience with them. I can’t say enough about my staff, they are just amazing. They do the work and make my job so easy. It feels good.”
Zainhofsky and her staff continually examine which individuals are falling through the cracks and try to figure out ways to further protect women, strengthen our community and increase awareness. One of the newer developments is a task force called People United For Safe Environments (PULSE) that is focused on preventing violence in our community. One aspect of PULSE is to help employers recognize and address issues with employees that may prevent further abuse.
There is also new legislation that has comes about from this awareness. “We now have a warrantless arrest, so if police go to a domestic call and they see signs of violence and injuries they can arrest someone,” said Zainhofsky.
Some of the people she got to know during her days working at the legislative sessions have proven to be valuable contacts over the years. “I met Wayne Stenehjem (now North Dakota Attorney General) when he was a young legislator,” said Zainhofsky. “We have developed a respect for one another, and a valuable connection. I am so lucky I can call him when I see a need for some legislation that should be introduced.”
Zainhofsky said there is an ongoing need for additional programs and services. “When we started sheltering people in 1990, no one planned on this agency growing to what it is today. But when you touch people, you learn their needs and we knew we had to provide services to women with regards to safety.”
She further explained one of the programs offered by the AARC. “The Family Safety Center came about when we were working with exchanging children down at the police department. Once the parents saw each other it was name calling and yelling; not a good environment for the children.
Senator Wellstone from Minnesota was instrumental in getting federal money for visitation centers. I asked an intern to do some research, and ended up finding funding to hire her as a child advocate. Our first visitation room was a big room with a window in the door so we could monitor. Now a quarter of our office building is the Family Safety Center. There are three rooms with electronic screen monitors. Kids love both parents, no matter what they’ve done. This provides a safe environment for the children. It was very expensive to start, but it currently serves over 50 families,” said Zainhofsky.
Additional AARC programs include:
Established in 1995, The Seeds of Hope Thrift and Gift Store has gone through many transitions, and locations, since its inception and currently provides 28 percent of the AARC total operating budget. Through a fortunate series of events, AARC received a $100,000 grant from UPS to buy its current home on the corner of 6th and Main in Downtown Bismarck.
Seeds of Hope is also the center of the New Directions education program which trains women in sales skills, how to write a resume, prepares them for interviews and more. Women attend the program for nine weeks, eight hours per week. It develops their personal and professional lives and even provides income as an employment and job-training site.
The Seed of Hope Gift Store also gives over fifty thousand dollars worth of merchandise every year to the women and children who are in the AARC shelters or being provided other services through the agency. The women can pick out clothes from the Career Closet as well as clothes for their children and household items when it is time for them to go out on their own.
A relatively new shelter is the Diane Zainhofsky Hope House. Opened in early 2010, this transitional shelter was formally dedicated October 1st, honoring Zainhofsky for her 30 years of service. The Hope House is where some of the women will stay after they leave Pam’s House as they search for their own independent living arrangements.
The AARC staff handles their tough daily work with communication and teamwork. They take everything day-by-day and don’t take situations personally. “We have an amazing leader,” said one staff member.
When asked about the most difficult part of her day Zainhofsky said it is thinking about the future. “The thought that we won’t have enough money and community support to keep our programs going,” she said. “We are always working on a shoestring budget and our budget is built like a giant puzzle. It has never been about the thousand dollar check; it has always been the five and ten dollar ones that keep us going.”
But Zainhofsky adds she is able to end her days on an encouraging note. “I have a very caring, nurturing husband,” she explained. “He cooks and has a meal on the table every night.”
She also finds time to keep track of her mother, who recently turned 100 and lives in the Baptist Home, play some bridge and entertain family and friends in her backyard in the summer.
“It has been a wonderful journey,” Zainhofsky said, summing up her 30 years with the AARC. “I have grown and my family has grown. I think I have been a mentor and a teacher to a lot of women that have been wonderful advocates.”
The Abused Adult Resource Center provided programs and services for over 14,000 adults in 2009. There were 1178 new victims of domestic violence and over 1500 children were also affected.
The AARC supplied over 10,000 nights of shelter to these victims and served them almost 25,000 meals.
The AARC appreciates donations of time and money. Volunteers are critical and contributed 24,039 hours in 2009.
To donate money or time, please contact the Abused Adult Resource Center.
Phone: 701.222.8370 Crisis Line: 1.866.341.7009
PO Box 5003, Bismarck, ND 58502