Meet Shayla DeVisser, Residential Operations Manager
By Guest Author, Julie Stutts
Perhaps it was being raised with her three siblings by her young, single mother in Pocatello? Or maybe it was living and working in the northernmost village in Alaska with minus 70-degree temperatures?
Whatever hardships and life experiences the WCA’s Residential Operations Manager Shayla DeVisser has endured, she doesn’t let it get in the way of her quest to help others help themselves.
“Mom tried so hard,” Shayla said. “I watched her struggle so much. Growing up I remember thinking our world isn’t set up for a woman to succeed.”
Shayla said her mom has minimal education and struggled through life.
“She never got a break through the court system or with child support,” Shayla said.
At age 15 and in high school, Shayla met her future husband, Jesse Thomas.
“He was 17 and his parents were great role models,” she said. “We were together 10 years before we married. He and his family were very supportive of me. His parents had college degrees and his dad was a social worker. They made a huge impact on me. I loved school and the social aspect of school. Their support of me and my family, made me want to go to college.”
While working on her undergraduate degree in social work at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, she volunteered for two programs — one for domestic violence, the other against campus date rape, or C.A.R.E (Creating A Rape Free Environment). She also served as an intern at the Spokane YWCA’s Domestic Violence Shelter and was later hired as a Case Manager.
So far, Shayla’s worked in domestic violence or children’s shelters for about eight years and in her current position at the WCA since October 2012. But this isn’t the first time she’s worked for the WCA. In 2009, she served an internship as a Court Advocate and worked as a Client Advocate while earning her graduate degree in social work through Boise State.
As the Residential Operations Manager for the WCA, Shayla oversees two domestic violence shelters (the emergency shelter and the transitional shelter) and the Case Management program. She supervises 14 Client Advocates and two Case Managers.
All of the residents participate in the four-month WCA program designed to help them become independent. If needed and approved, residents can request to stay an additional two months. There are only four rooms available for transitional housing.
Residents get two weeks to settle in after arriving at the shelter. Although families stay together in one room, they have to learn to adapt to sharing space with others. They’re assigned a support team which includes a Case Manager, Counselor, Residential Operations Manager, Court Advocate, and Child Care Manager. They attend one-on-one counseling, group support sessions and learn financial and life skills – things like opening a checking account, budgeting, and how to obtain a credit report and file taxes.
Shayla recalls working with a resident who was struggling with substance abuse while at the same time trying to tend to her children.
“One day I was talking with her and told her, ‘we’re here to help you be successful.’ She said no one in her whole life had ever said such a thing. She told me, ‘I didn’t realize you were here to support me.’”
After that conversation, Shayla said staff watched this woman grow as a person, as an individual and as a mother.
“No one had ever said anything positive to her in her life,” Shayla explained. “She was never acknowledged for the good things she did, from cooking a meal to caring for her children. She had never experienced a positive environment before. When all you get is critical feedback, it can be hard to make positive changes, from getting off drugs to helping her understand the importance of making sure her children are safe and cared for. It’s all in the approach and how we go about it, helping turn their lives around for the better. We help them focus on considering the options and that they’re not alone when figuring it out.”
So what about the Alaska part?
“For about three years, Jesse and me lived and worked in Barrow, Alaska,” Shayla said. Jesse worked as a public defender while Shayla worked as a clinician for the children’s home.
“Temperatures went down to negative 70 degrees in winter and only 50 degrees in summer,” she said. “Then there was the three months of 24/7 darkness in the winter and three months of 24/7 sunlight in the summer. It was very isolated. You could only travel by airplane as there weren’t any paved roads. It took 12 to 13 hours of flying to get back to Boise.”
Although conditions were harsh, she said it was the experience of a lifetime.
“We learned and grew professionally and personally,” Shayla said. “It was a place for young professionals to work in order to gain experience. For fun we’d gather our friends for brunch every Sunday. We’d have game nights, play hockey and ride snow machines.”
Married for two years now, the couple lives in Boise with Raja, a cat who adopted them. They just bought their first home together and are remodeling it themselves to make it their own. Outside of work they enjoy traveling and spending time in the outdoors; cross-country skiing, backpacking, hiking and kayaking.
As the WCA’s Residential Operations Manager Shayla DeVisser, is keen on what the residents and the agency need the most:
- Interpreters, especially for the non-English speaking refugee populations.
“Getting access to good interpreters who understand domestic violence is a huge need for our community,” Shayla said. Interpreters already working for law enforcement and the court system are maxed out.
“Our interpreters have to be sensitive and understand the importance of privacy and confidentiality as these populations can be very small,” she said.
- Donations of new items for the Residential Store.
“Because we set residents up to be sustainable in their new life, we always need household items, linens and furniture,” Shayla said. “However, the donated items must be new.” Donations of gift cards to places like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, Target and WinCo also are great, she said.