Streamlined operations at InterAct put clients on the path to recovery.
To escape yet another beating, a woman fled her house on a rainy night, barefoot and with only the clothes on her back. She ran, feet bloodied, for miles to a fire station, where firefighters called police, who took her to InterAct and safety. InterAct provided emergency shelter, food, clothing and comfort. More importantly, counselors helped the woman formulate a plan. A few weeks later, as she boarded a bus for a new state with a new identity, the woman told her support team, “This is the first time I have felt hope in 15 years.”
Recovery from domestic violence or sexual assault is a journey that typically begins on a winding path through hospitals, police stations, and courtrooms, not to mention counseling and support sites miles apart.
In 2009, InterAct of Wake County had a better idea: invite service delivery agencies and Raleigh law enforcement to share space at the InterAct Family Safety & Empowerment Center. There, under one roof, Triangle residents find the strength and support to put their lives back together with the help of professionals and volunteers who are experts in trauma and its aftermath.
The wrap-around approach raised the accessibility and visibility of InterAct services among victims and first-responders alike. By 2014, the organization’s daily walk-in volume had tripled. InterAct executive director Leigh Duque saw that demand for crisis intervention had outrun resources. A creaky database, outdated technology, and legacy processes that sometimes overlapped each other were slowing the delivery of services and taking an emotional toll on the agency’s passionate staff and volunteers. She needed help to address four interrelated challenges – staffing, technology, planning, and communication – so she reached out to ESC.
Enter first-time ESC consultants Rick Matson and Michael Frisch, with deep experience in strategic planning and operational effectiveness. Their goal was to provide capacity-building tools and techniques that would free InterAct line staff to care for clients.
After visiting with Duque and her leadership team, the consultants drew up an operations process map to guide more informed investments in time saving software applications and hardware.
“Rick and Mike took a deep dive into programs and services,” Duque recalled. “They had complete access and followed clients through every service, even taking calls on the crisis line.”
The insights were granular. For instance, “mapping made us ask ourselves if we really needed two separate intake forms for our shelter program and walk-in services,” Duque said. “Asking a client the same questions to complete two forms risked re-traumatizing the victim with each telling, and didn’t add value.”
Once key processes were streamlined, Frisch and Matson were able to guide the selection of replacement software and computing equipment for client tracking and reporting. To improve interdisciplinary communication, the consultants helped InterAct set up shared electronic files. Now, everyone can see in realtime how many residential shelter beds are available.
Each improvement has revealed potential service delivery and systems enhancements, and Matson and Frisch now are helping InterAct design and implement a methodology for continuously monitoring and refining operations.
“Michael and I made a difference from the beginning by asking, ‘Before we add more staff to deal with tripling of the workload, are we doing things in the most efficient and effective way?’” Matson said. “Streamlining initial paperwork was good for clients as well as staff. Then came better tools. When you produce tangible results it makes you feel good.”
InterAct also wants to break the cycle of violence. The ESC consultants, recognized for their strong collaboration and leadership skills, have been invited to participate as coaches for InterAct’s strategic planning and goal setting.
“I can’t imagine life without Rick and Mike, they are so much a part of the team,” Duque said. “They’ve given me the room to focus on strategic and tactical planning, like ongoing programmatic, staff, and volunteer assessment and development.”
“I walked by our training center recently, and it was overflowing with staff and volunteers attending a mental health training,” Duque recalled. “It was so gratifying to see them increasing their knowledge and skills to benefit our clients. That’s a much more motivating use of staff and volunteer time than wrestling with systems, and it’s going to help us put more resources into violence prevention.”
According to InterAct Board of Directors Chair Chris Evans, the ESC engagement has strengthened the nonprofit’s ability to achieve its mission. “Thanks to the infusion of ESC consultant talent, InterAct is furthering its ability to save lives, rebuild lives, and secure safer futures for our entire community,” Evans said.