2018 Newsmakers: Jessica Hill

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Jessica Hill, executive director of Safe House for Women, talks with a volunteer at the Safe House for Women thrift store
Photograph by Ben Matthews

Jessica Hill, executive director of Safe House for Women, says she has always wanted to help others through working in the nonprofit community. Her job at Safe House, she says, is to ensure the administration and finances behind the scenes run as smoothly as possible so her staff is set up for success when working in their client-centered organization.

Hill’s leadership is making a big difference. Under her direction for the past four years, the Safe House has embarked on the public phase of their capital campaign to build a 40-bed shelter — 23 more beds than the current shelter houses. The $2.1 million dollar project is only $800,000 away from its goal.

Hill has also established children’s therapy, batterer’s intervention and transitional housing programs. She has created several new positions within Safe House, including one that helps clients transition out of the shelter, one that works with clients in a substance abuse recovery program and one that focuses on helping clients find affordable housing. Hill has been able to do all of this through expanding the shelter’s funding through federal and state grants, as well as through funds from the Safe House thrift store and fundraisers such as the annual VintageNOW Fashion Show.

Feedback from clients and co-workers through surveys and focus groups are an important part of improving services, Hill says. From these suggestions, Safe House has been able to implement solutions such as a two-week childcare program that gives mothers time to find a job.

All of these new, free and confidential programs support the Safe House’s counseling, court advocacy and case management services that work to navigate clients through the court system and help them sustain education, vocational rehabilitation, jobs and safe housing.

This has never been more necessary: Hill says reported cases of domestic violence are rising, and the number of clients the Safe House serves has grown over the past four years. In 2017, there were 553 reports of domestic violence in Cape Girardeau County and 72 in Bollinger County, the counties Safe House for Women services. Safe House saw 400 of those people.

The key, Hill says, is to empower clients.

“We need to look towards people with compassion,” Hill says. “But then we also need to look at them as not irretrievable. There’s no reason why this person can’t be a great parent, employee and member of our community. We’re there to help them get to that place, but they’re going to do that. I would like for people to look at our clients as somebody who has gone through a tough time, but they’re going to make a fresh start and in the end, they’re going to be world-changers, too.”