Have you ever been in a situation when you knew, without a doubt, that your work made a difference in another person’s life? That, in each person’s troubles, one person by one person, you were trained and available to come alongside them and walk through hard, even terrible, circumstances?
And so began my conversation with Hattie Allen, the CEO of our local Kendall County Women’s Shelter (KCWS). It was a bit of a tricky introduction — it’s hard to identify someone you’ve never met before at a restaurant — when she is wearing a mask! But we managed to do so, and I’m so proud to share some of what I learned from her during those few hours.
Hattie Allen’s background is similar to so many of us in the area. “I’m a fourth generation Fredericksburg TX resident. My greatgreat-great-grandfather came from Germany with his family when he was 9. They made the great choice to live in the Hill Country, and we’ve been ranchers in the area ever since!”
It seems a curious transition, from ranchgirl to CEO of a non-profit organization. “I went to college at Texas Tech, and I was certain I was to be an engineer. That lasted until my junior year, and I knew without a doubt that an engineering career wasn’t for me! After some hours spent with my counselor at school, I realized that an education that led to more opportunity for interpersonal relationships, to work to help people, and to communicate in general suited me better. I moved to a Public Relations degree program, and graduated in 2000. After 9/11 and its after-effects settled some, I earned my Masters in Public Administration in 2005.
“As a part of my program, I joined the Women’s Shelter in Lubbock as an intern. My “title” was Membership Coordinator, but I did whatever they needed – you name it, I probably did it!
“After graduation, I stayed with them as a full-time staff member for several more years.” Hattie continued: “The experiences I had there proved to me that the advocacy role, helping others, learning what resources exist and helping people in need find their way to them – all of that – was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. These women and children have experienced extreme trauma and need all of the help and support we can give them to help them move from surviving to thriving.”
After a few more years in Lubbock, Allen took a role in Austin at the Texas Council of Family Violence. “This program taught me so much. The organization lobbies the government for more programs, among other things, and fundraisers to provide resources and support to local level organizations. I learned about recruiting supporters and training volunteers, and all the options a person in need has available to them. Ultimately, still in Austin, I moved to the Children Advocacy Centers of Texas.”
In 2014 Allen saw the job listing for the Women’s Shelter in Boerne and applied. “The rest is history!”
I realized that I had only a superficial idea of all the work and help provided by Allen and her staff at the KCWS. Maybe that is the same for you, too.
“We provide shelter, obviously, but also counseling, parenting skills, help finding places to live and furnishing them. We always need people with strong backs to help us move furniture into new apartments for clients that need it! We help clients locate jobs and help them learn to handle everything that is on their plates. So many of them are in situations that are almost unbearable. We try to help them find a way to bear the weight.”
I also learned that KCWS serves men in need on a fairly regular basis. “Family trauma doesn’t only affect women, but every member of a family. So often we forget that men are also abused and traumatized by people in their lives — and need all the help we can give them. Sometimes they are the custodial parent and are working to give their children better lives.”
Financials of any non-profit easily tell the story of success or not-so-successful. “The breadth of KCWS’ role in helping families is immense. Such a job requires two main things: people to do the work, and money to pay for the resources required.”
When you think through the various arenas the organization must be prepared to step into, it appears almost overwhelming. KCWS provides counseling, food, shelter, clothing, training. And beyond that, KCWS provides emotional support and encouragement for people who sometimes have no idea what a calm and happy life is.
I asked Hattie to outline what KCWS most needs right now: “Donations! To keep us going, we survive on donations from individuals, businesses, churches, Kendall County, and grants. We work with area Community Foundations, as well.’
This year has been particularly challenging because all three of our major fundraisers have been canceled due to COVID. That is a huge knock on our bottom line. The individual contribution is so very important! Boerne, and Kendall County at large, is a great supporter, and we are trying to make it as easy as possible for folks to support this important work!”
“The second arm of our success is volunteers. People with hearts to help.”
Allen told me that volunteer opportunities are broad and fulfilling. “When you work with a client from the moment they arrive until they move on to the next steps in their life, we need helpers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization.
There are just innumerable opportunities for working with the program…including the children in the shelter — such as helping with Christmas programs. “You have no idea how challenging it is to get a family and their children lined up with Adopt-a-Tree programs and providing the right gifts to the right family members on Christmas morning! We couldn’t do it without our volunteers willing to organize, check and double-check, and help on Christmas morning! But these are such great times to share in. And those are only a few of the things volunteers can and do help with. Volunteers make sure donated furniture is clean and in good shape. Gathering items to make a home livable – from silverware to bedsheets – is hard work and volunteers make it happen. I appreciate our volunteers more than I can say.
‘Especially this year, without our formal fundraising events, volunteers help by making phone calls to organizations and individuals to encourage their donations to the Shelter. They make visits when requested or required, they lick a lot of stamps and mail a lot of letters. Without them we are financially out of business.”
“A few other things our volunteers do: they man a Hot Line and last year we answered almost 300 calls. We are blessed to be able to train volunteers to speak with these callers in need. Volunteers also help with nutrition, finding supplies such as housewares and clothing, and all the requirements in between.”
It is apparent that a ‘volunteer’ to the KCWS sometimes requires some special knowledge or preparation. Allen explained the process:
“Each volunteer (or intern, as the case may be) receives advocacy training, webinar training and other guidance to work with our clients.
‘Staff members have almost all come from a psychology or social work background, or have other experience in working with people affected by trauma. But equally important, whether volunteer or staff member, we look for individuals with a strong sense of compassion and empathy. Without that natural tendency, it is a very difficult place to work every day. Sometimes the work load is heavy. Our staff and volunteer team’s interpersonal support helps keep us all emotionally strong and able to keep going.”
“For those who don’t really want to be involved in the shelter itself, we ALWAYS need strong backs to help with gathering housewares and furniture from our thrift shop or from donators to the client’s new home/apartment.” As an aside, Allen said with a rueful smile: “OK, I admit that sometimes there are stairs involved!” She continued “We are also starting a furniture pick up service for people who are donating heavy items. At any rate, you can see that if you have some time to volunteer, we can use you!”
On a personal note, I asked Hattie to share the hardest experience she deals with. “That’s easy to answer,” she said. “Making sure I have healthy boundaries between my client’s situations and my own life. I’ve had to learn that people sometimes make choices I don’t think are the best ones, but it is, in fact, their choice, and I have to be okay with that. Another one is any situation where children are involved. Kids in difficult situations are definitely a trigger for me!”
As she continued, however, we can get a sense for what keeps her, and the others involved in the work, going day-to-day. “It isn’t so much the ‘hardest’ part that any of us focus on. Instead, it is the success stories! THAT is what keeps us all moving forward. Most of the time our clients make great decisions and I can see that they’ve learned there is a better way to be treated, respected, and not manipulated. When I see that happen, I feel like we’ve actually changed the world for the better.”
Hattie outlined the KCWS’s focus on eliminating abuse for the future by “providing “Safe Dates” and “Expect Respect” programs to high school students. These programs have been making an impact. Fairly often a student will approach me or another staff member after one of these programs to tell us that either they are experiencing abuse, or someone they know is. It allows us an opportunity to work through the situation in a successful way. That is changing people’s futures, truly.”
Our Kendall County Women reader is the audience best suited to help other women in need. You and I are the ones who can join into the KCWS’s community and share in making a difference in lives.
If you prefer to donate in one way or another, items can be donated at KCWS’ donation station located at 934 North School Street. If you are ready to become a volunteer, please visit the website at kcwstexas.org to sign up. Or course, you can also call 830-331-8950 for more information. “We need you and your support to continue making a difference in so many lives!”
Hattie and her husband, Wes, live in Fredericksburg. “In Austin in 2010, we met in the neighborhood dive bar — such a cliche and yet exactly right! He is the best human alive!” Wes is a Roscoe native and is a landscape designer.