LILLI CROWE | OCT 15, 2017
Working in domestic violence can be heartbreaking and exhausting. Here, Safe and Stable Families Program Coordinator Lilli Crowe explains what makes her excited to go to work each day.
I’ve always wanted to help. Part of it might be being a big sister, older cousin, or just generally wanting to have a job and a place. I was the kid that worked really hard to convince my mom that stray dogs and cats followed me home. I brought home every injured animal I came across. We grew up incredibly poor, in a crumbling house built in the 1800s with no air conditioning and occasionally flickering power. My brother and I spent our childhood riding the city bus all afternoon because the house was so hot that the candles were melting in the kitchen. We were surrounded by poverty, often bringing big jugs of water to friends and neighbors whose water had been turned off and sharing food when we could. I think a big part of my wanting to help came from this: always having an expectation to help those around me, and they would help me when I needed it.
I grew up watching my single mom being a helper. She worked as a sign language interpreter to ensure that deaf people had a caring and compassionate connection to the hearing world, teaching police officers how to sign “Show me your license” and “Are you deaf?” in an effort to curb the tense and fear-filled interactions between deaf people and the police. She often volunteered around town and was always committed to the three of us picking up trash around the neighborhood every night after dinner.
I grew up wanting to help, originally wanting to do something with animals, but then switching to people later on. What really solidified my passion to help was a phone call I picked up on my mom’s recently reconnected home phone line when I was in college. A woman named Jennifer, not familiar to me, asked to speak to my mom. They talked for nearly an hour, and afterward, I asked my mom about her.
“One night, Jennifer whispered to my mom that she was ready. Her husband had just broken her arm in front of the kids… My mom explained that Jennifer had a habit in the following years of calling her when she got scared, and my mom would reassure her and get her in contact with the people that she needed.”
In the mid-1990s, when I was in second or third grade, my mom was a DFCS social worker who investigated claims of child abuse. She worked in rural Georgia counties where people were often armed and very unhappy to see her show up at their door. She was sent to Jennifer and her husband’s house, and it became immediately clear that Jennifer was being abused by her husband and mother-in-law. Her adolescent sons were learning that they could treat her badly, too. They would lock her in the house when they left and take every phone cord so she couldn’t call for help. My mom and Jennifer connected, much to her husband’s displeasure. After gaining her trust, my mom slipped Jennifer a phone cord and her home phone number and told her to call when she was ready to get out.
One night, Jennifer whispered to my mom that she was ready. Her husband had just broken her arm in front of the kids. Mom called the local sheriff for an escort and got ready. They went to the house and got Jennifer and her sons out. My mom tapped into local resources to get Jennifer a car, an apartment, a job, an attorney who got her a divorce and custody of her sons, and her husband went to jail.
My mom explained that Jennifer had a habit in the following years of calling her when she got scared–usually when her husband would call from prison making baseless threats–and my mom would reassure her and get her in contact with the people that she needed.
When Jennifer called that day and I answered, it had been nearly 20 years since they first met. Over these years, Jennifer kept my mom’s home phone number and knew that she could call it when she was frightened or needed an answer. Hearing that story from my mom solidified that this field is where my heart wanted to go.
I’m so happy and proud to be a part of this organization, and that I get to create an echo of the impact that my mom made. Getting to know my clients, telling them that they can always call me when they get scared or need an answer, fulfills me more than any other job I can imagine.